Known as much for it’s dominance as a college football power, the University of Miami has been also known for producing NFL talent on an annual basis, acting as a pipeline on a prospect path to professional football. When former Booker T. Washington defensive end Chad Thomas arrived to UM’s campus, many projected the five-star high school prospect would dominate early and often during his collegiate career. Sadly, that was not the case early in Thomas’ career. Thomas was used sparingly during his first two seasons—a fact that only drew the ire of Miami’s fan base towards then-head coach Al Golden and defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio for questionable personnel decisions during their tenure.
Like many holdovers from the Golden regime, entering his junior season, an older, wiser and limitless potential version of Thomas appeared ready to seize the opportunities presented.
With the Hurricanes adopting an attacking 4-3 defense under new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, the change returned Thomas to a familiar stance. Having worked as a linebacker rushing from two-point stance with D’Onofiro as DC, Thomas transitioned back to putting his hand on the grass in 3-point stance. Whether through maturation or a better scheme fit, No. 9’s productions picked up in his final two seasons at Miami, gathering 11 tackles-for-loss in 2016 and 12.5 TFLs in his senior season. His four sacks in 2016 were improved by one-and-a-half in 2017 for a five-and-a-half rushing total against the strength of the offense.
One of the more fascinating individuals to come through the program in some time, Thomas’ passion is playing the game of football, yet it’s not his only endeavour. Before his senior year, Thomas was credited by Miami Rapper Rick Ross for his production on a song called, “Apple of My Eye” on Ross’ “Rather You Than Me” album. That same year, DJ Khaled used another sample produced by Thomas—whose rap name is Major Nine—on a single that featured Miami DJ and “God’s Plan” artist, Drake. After dropping a mixtape, Thomas made it clear that his focus was on school—he majors in Miami’s music program—and on the football season. Thomas has maintained that his musical ambitions will be on the backburner as he chases his dream of being drafted and playing in the NFL, illustrating his real focus in life.
Measurables and Path to the Draft
Weight: 281 pounds
Arm Length: 33 1⁄2 inches
Hand Size: 10 1⁄4 inches
High School: Booker T. Washington
Hometown: Miami, Florida
Best Game Film: Florida State (2017)
In any other context aside from MMA, having violents hands would be considered a negative trait. However, Thomas does an excellent job of getting into blockers to create space in order to see plays develop. His club and stab moves were among the best that anyone has seen for the Hurricanes over the past few seasons.
Thomas plays with good leverage to be able to show color on plays that attempt to bounce outside. Thomas does an excellent job of taking on combo blocks from tight ends and tackles, often handling TEs as one would hope a defensive end would at the NFL level.
It was mentioned earlier that Thomas spent half of his collegiate career rushing from two-point and three-point stance, so he will have the familiarity with either posture for defensive schemes that work out of multiple formations. Spending a majority of his career coming off the edge, his senior season has plenty of examples of Thomas rushing the passer from the defensive interior as a three-technique with fellow DE Trent Harris aligned to the same side of the defensive line. Just too fast with his blend of speed and power against interior offensive linemen, Thomas thrived when moved to the interior of the line.
It’s difficult for any defender—freshman or senior—to not be fooled on occasion by misdirection. The key to being a great defender is to let that become a normal aspect of your game. Thomas maintains his gap integrity by staying home on plays, trusting the scouting report and his instincts. On counters and powers, you’ll see his number nine jersey stapled to the hip of the guard that leads him to disrupting the play before it can develop. When it came to run defense for Miami in 2017, only DT RJ McIntosh was more disruptive against the run than Thomas.
Lack of Sack Production
Thomas has the size, strength and football acumen to be a dominant defensive lineman, yet his pass rush ability leaves something to be desired. There are too many instances on film where he tries to use a speed rush to get by a tackle with results that either take him out of the play or leaves the quarterback with an ample amount of time in the pocket. His angle to the QB will often allow more athletic QBs to step up to the top of the pocket or see him flash past, whiffing as the QB steps up away from his rush.
While NFL evaluators believe that sack production translates from college to the pros, it is possible in the right system for Thomas to improve to be better against the pass, especially given how the league views pass-rushers in high regard these days.
“Has all the physical and athletic traits that a team could look for along the edge and he’s versatile enough to play in an odd or even front. Thomas’ draft grade is based much more on projection than production and he will need prove that he can convert coaching into success on the field as a pass rusher. Thomas has the potential to become a much better pro than college player, but his floor is lower than you might like.”
Lance Zierlein NFL.com analyst
”He will be a very good NFL player or a bust. I don’t think there will be an in-between. He has his music thing which he’s supposedly really good at. I think it’s legitimate to question whether or not his heart will be into football as a long-term passion. He’s really talented but hasn’t improved like he should have.”
AFC team East Coast scout
“He’s one of the most impressive size/athleticism prospects in this class, but the production was never there at Miami. He’s a project, but has the kind of ceiling most edge players in this draft class can’t match.”
MMQB Staff Member
“As a true 4-3 defensive end prospect, Chad Thomas will have a ton of value for teams who want a strong-side end who could line up inside for sub-packages. His versatility and athleticism are his calling cards, but a lack of production keeps his stock lowered”
Matt Miller Bleacher Report
“Thomas comes ready-made to be an impact-player against the run as a rookie. Doing the same as a pass-rusher may take a little longer. Thomas would flash dominant outings, then disappear far too often.”
Mike Renner Pro Football Focus
NFL Network analyst and draft guru Daniel Jeremiah compared Thomas with former Miami Dolphins’ defensive end Jared Odrick. During his seven-season career, Odrick split the first five years of his career playing for the Miami Dolphins before going to the Jacksonville Jaguars for two seasons via free agency. Thomas and Odrick both have similar measurables, with the exception that Odrick moonlighted during his career as a defensive tackle—a move that would be a disservice to Thomas’ skills set in early projections.
There were some projections early in the off-season that Thomas could be a candidate to be a standup outside linebacker in a 3-4 system. However, most of the NFL Network analysts were adamant that Thomas will make his living as a pro as a 4-3 traditional defensive end. This is despite looking fluid during the early portion of the drill, yet looking uncomfortable in his backpedal and dropping a couple balls at the end of the workout.
There would be a fierce debate as to who the heart and soul of the Hurricanes was last season. The case could be made for Jaquan Johnson, Shaq Quarterman, or Ahmmon Richards. However, given his tenure at Miami and doing what was asked of him—playing as a standup LB over his natural position of playing with his hand on the ground—Thomas led the team as he made it his mission to be a part of returning Miami football to its previous heights.
Considered a prototypical 4-3 defensive end based on his measurables and style of play, Thomas should be an ideal fit for many multiple defensive systems in today’s NFL. For a program that has produced great edge defenders such as Olivier Vernon and Calais Campbell, Thomas has the intangibles and work ethic to carve out a successful career. Of course, having a fall back in the music industry is not too shabby. Look for Thomas to land with a 4–3 or multiple defensive front system to start his career. It would be an ideal harmony for a player who provided a perfect melody for the ’Canes during his time at UM.
Draft Projection: Second - Fourth round
Good Luck Major Nine!