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Better Know a Freshman: Justin Thomas

Big bodied DE flashes potential.

Get bigger and stronger. It’s become a mission of the Orgeron era, even just as he served DL duties. In the waning days of Chavis, LSU’s front four went long on lean, athletic types intended to disrupt the run game with penetration and hyperactivity. Instead, LSU ranked 47th nationally in run defense, their lowest since Chavis’ first season in Baton Rouge.

LSU, particularly against physical teams, was often pushed around at the point of attack. That 2014 season they allowed 268 rushing yards to Wisconsin, 302 rushing yards to Mississippi State, 298 rushing yards to Auburn, before tidying things up, only to allow another 263 yards rushing to Notre Dame.

Chavis left, Orgeron and Steele arrived and immediately set about transitioning LSU to a more diverse defensive front with a bigger emphasis on size up front. DTs were shifted to DE and DEs were shifted to OLB. Recruiting priorities shifted as offers started to fly out to bigger, thicker players capable of eating blockers up front. These types of players are often undervalued commodities on the recruiting trail, though can prove to be valuable cornerstones of a dominant defense.

Could Justin Thomas be a sleeper prospect in the 2017 signing class?

Back of the Card

110 - 101 = Franchise Player. One of the best players to come along in years, if not decades. Odds of having a player in this category every year is slim. This prospect has "can’t miss" talent.

100 - 98 = Five-star prospect. One of the top 30 players in the nation. This player has excellent pro-potential and should emerge as one of the best in the country before the end of his career. There will be 32 prospects ranked in this range in every football class to mirror the first round of the NFL Draft.

97 - 90 = Four-star prospect. One of the top 300 players in the nation. This prospect will be an impact-player for his college team. He is an All-American candidate who is projected to play professionally.

89 - 80 = Three-star prospect. One of the top 10% players in the nation. This player will develop into a reliable starter for his college team and is among the best players in his region of the country. Many three-stars have significant pro potential.

79 - below = Two-star prospect. This player makes up the bulk of Division I rosters. He may have little pro-potential, but is likely to become a role player for his respective school.

247 Composite Ranking: ***
247 Composite Rating: .8681

Thomas ranked 512th nationally and as the 19th overall Strong-side DE. Officially listed at 6’4”, 277 pounds, Thomas is a big-bodied prospect that would probably have been more suited to DT in our previous scheme.

An early-enrollee, Thomas is the son of former Alabama OL Atlas Herrion. Despite visiting Tuscaloosa a handful of times, Thomas never earned an offer from Alabama and emphasized he wanted to make a name for himself by going to LSU. He received an invite to the Alabama/Mississippi All-Star game, along with future teammate Neil Farrell. As a senior he registered 57 tackles, 13 TFL and 7 sacks.

On the Field

Already There: Strength at the Point of Attack, Quick First Step, Physicality, Hand Usage

Working On It: Size

Doesn’t Have It: N/A

Already There

Strength at the Point of Attack: Thomas is a powerful player with the type of punch I like to see from a dominant OL. Right away at :10 you see the power he brings to the table as he just throws the blocker off of him. Joined halfway, but I like seeing him stand up a blocker at 1:42. Again, 2:45 he is not an object easily moved. This is superb technique in stacking up a blocker and clogging a running lane. Look at 4:49 and how well he controls the OL and drives him deep into the backfield. Love seeing that. 7:30 again, this kid can flat out anchor.

Quick First Step: I’d like to see more consistency here, but he can really get off the ball. Check :28 and how well he times the snap and absolutely blows by the OL. 1:08 is another fine example. 4:39 again you see the explosiveness. He’s got some legitimate quickness to him, which makes him a pass rushing threat.

Physicality: Thomas is a very physical player that delights in contact. Look at the blow he levies on the backer at :15. Check out this bullrush at 3:50. Just bullying.

Hand Usage: I love a DL who knows how to use his hands as weapons. A lot of guys have physical gifts but never maximize their potential by not focusing on technique. Thomas is a guy who flashes a lot of advanced techniques for a young player, the least of which is not his hand usage. You can see it at :22 just how easily he’s able to defeat a blocker. Again at 1:27, I don’t think his approach is super clean, but his club is violent and sets him on a free path to the QB.

Working on It

Size: At 6’4”, 277, he’s actually still a bit lean for his future DE role. LaCouture is currently LSU’s smallest DE and he’s 292. So Thomas needs to add some more beef to adequately anchor in the run game.

Poseur’s 80s Movie Comparison

I’m a big fan of the underdog, and Justin Thomas is one of the underdogs of this class. He comes to campus with little acclaim, yet Dan sees that he has all of the tools to succeed. Sometimes, we overlook those things right in our own backyard. Justin Thomas is The Goonies.

Movie Poster Shop.com

First off, The Goonies is one of the best adventure movies ever made, period. Forget about one of the best kid movies, it’s one of the best movies. It’s funny, action-packed, has actually interesting characters, and it boasted a fabulous cast. Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, the immortal Anne Ramsey, half of the Coreys, Martha Plimpton... even Joey Pants.

It’s the last ditch effort of the loser kids being forced out of their homes by real estate moguls, like the kids from Porky’s all grew up and kept being assholes. But it’s about one last fantastical dream and putting your money down on the longshot. Because down here, this is our time. Justin Thomas, like the Goonies themsleves, is good enough.

What the Future Holds

I can’t really put my finger on Thomas as a prospect. His offer list is really light and he played for a 6A school in Alabama, so it’s not as if he’s hiding in some obscure location. He pretty consistently looks like the best player on the field in his highlights, purely dominating some opponents. Perhaps his play is up and down?

To me, Thomas looks like a pretty good athlete and quality D1 prospect. I’d say he’s even a fringe 4-star prospect. There’s a lot of tools there. He’s got a good frame, he moves well for a big guy, he’s exceptionally strong and he’s even really polished at this point. So why then does a kid from Alabama not have committable offers from Bama or Auburn? Why the relatively lean offer list? He has no record of trouble as far as I can tell, either.

I’m inclined to trust pro evaluators who don’t seem especially high on him over my own evals. That said, he enrolled early and he’s already seen playing time in the first two games. Even if he’s playing late time, the coaches have some measure of trust in his abilities.

Thomas may well be on a career trajectory like Pep Levingston who emerged as a solid rotational DL and eventual starter his senior season. Levingston was never a great player at LSU, but he was no liability either. Thomas has some pass rush skill and he’s absolutely got run stuffing potential. Curious to see where his potential takes him and if all the evaluators were wrong.

High End: Rotational depth and eventual senior starter.
Low End: Eventually lost in the shuffle and never contributes beyond garbage time.
Realistic: I think he’s quality depth to the rotation, but one that can absolutely beat the odds. I like his tape a fair amount. If Thomas puts in the time, he could be a starter and eventual two-way threat as a DE. Think Rashard Lawrence light.