After getting a little more familiar with first-round pick Mike Pouncey yesterday, it’s time to do the same with second-round selection Daniel Thomas today.
I was somewhat critical of the pick on draft night, simply because Ryan Mallett was still on the board. But with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams slated for free agency, the Dolphins were wise to pick up a running back with one of their early-round selections.
Having said that, I’m still not 100% sold on Thomas as the feature back of this offense. Not necessarily because he’s a bigger back that lacks big-play ability, but because of his ball security issues and upright running style.
But don’t take my word for anything on this kid, yet. Admittedly, I may have seen him play once or twice at K-State and wasn’t necessarily in scouting mode. So, once again, let’s talk to an expert. Please welcome in Tye Burger from Bring on the Cats, SB Nation’s Kansas St. Wildcats blog.
Phins Phocus: What are Daniel Thomas' biggest strengths that he will bring to the Dolphins' backfield?
Answer: Daniel Thomas' biggest strength is durability. He's not the fasted back, and he doesn't have the best moves, but he can take a pounding. K-State ran 894 plays on offense last year, and Thomas carried the ball on 298 of them. That's more carries for Thomas than the team had pass attempts for the season. I don't know if Miami is planning to make Thomas a feature back because I don't know enough about the Dolphins' personnel, but so far he's shown the ability to carry the load every game. In his junior season, he played the entire season and led the conference in rushing when it was well known that he had a bum shoulder.
Phins Phocus: What are a some of the things he struggles with?
Answer: As you mention in the next question, he's had issues with his ball security. Thomas was a quarterback in junior college, and he still has a tendency to carry the ball a little loosely. On top of that, he fights tooth and nail for every inch he gets, and that has led to him putting the ball on the turf occasionally. Other than that, he doesn't have great burst. Linebackers in the NFL will be able to chase him down in the open field, so he'll have to rely on his ability to find the seam and take good angles in the open field.
Phins Phocus: Was his ball security issues something that got better over time? Or did Thomas have trouble hanging on to the football his entire collegiate career?
Answer: Fumbles were Thomas' biggest issue from Day 1. He was better by the end of his senior season, but whenever he went down in traffic we always held our breath. In the modern NFL, where it seems players try to strip first and tackle later, Thomas will have to make ball security a priority or he'll find himself on the bench, or worse.
Phins Phocus: Looking at some of his highlight clips, I noticed that Thomas often times runs straight up. I worry some that his running style will leave him vulnerable to crushing hits. Did he struggle with injuries at Kansas St.? Do you think he will be able to sustain a long, healthy career at the next level?
Answer: Thomas is a very upright runner. I think it stems from the fact that he wasn't a running back his entire career. In college, Thomas got away with his upright running style because he's so big for a running back at 6'2", 228 lbs., has decent college speed, and can make defenders miss. I don't know that he'll be vulnerable to big hits for those reasons, but I do worry that he'll have trouble with high-ankle sprains, alå Ron Dayne. In the open field, Thomas doesn't keep his pads down to protect his legs, and he may pay the price for that against NFL linebackers and defensive backs.
Phins Phocus: If you had to predict, what type of running back do you think Thomas will be at the next level? A disappointment, average starter, solid starter, or a Pro Bowl caliber back?
Answer: Again, I'm not sure how the Dolphins plan to use him. If memory serves, the Dolphins were the first NFL team to implement the Wildcat formation, and Thomas is tailor-made for that. He was a quarterback in junior college, and while he doesn't have the best arm, he's more than capable of completing a pass. K-State used Thomas in the Wildcat formation frequently over the last two years. Most of the time, he just ran a midline option or sweep, but occasionally he would pull out the jump pass or some other form of passing play.
So it's possible the Dolphins plan to use him as their version of a third-down back, or a player who gets a few carries but is used primarily as a run-pass threat out of the Wildcat, and don't really have any other use for him. To me, he projects as a career backup who makes occasional starts based on injuries or matchups. Given my limited knowledge of the NFL, I don't know if that's a disappointment for a second-round pick or not, so I'll leave that to you.