This time of year is when rookie undrafted free agents start to separate themselves from the pack and build their case to make the 53-man roster at the end of training camp. So far during the Las Vegas Raiders’ minicamp and OTAs, former NC State linebacker Drake Thomas has stood out and began to fall into that category.
It’s no secret that the Raiders could use some help at the position, so there’s a chance Thomas makes the squad at the end of August. But beyond the hype, what can he bring to the table in Las Vegas? Let’s turn to the tape and find out!
Drake Thomas with nice rip move to win inside and get a TFL pic.twitter.com/E7GHAu76zz— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) June 12, 2023
One thing that stands out about Thomas’ run defense is that he refuses to get blocked by tight ends. Here, Boston College lines up in a single-wing formation with two tight ends to the wide side of the field so NC State counters by walking Thomas up to the line of scrimmage on the strong side.
He lines up in the D-gap (between the two tight ends) pre-snap and works vertically for the first two steps to get the inside tight end — No. 80 — to start working outside to block him. However, Thomas uses his quickness and change of direction skills, along with a nice rip move, to change the angle on No. 80 to get penetration on the inside in the C-gap.
From there, it’s all about the backer’s motor/relentlessness as he keeps fighting to the inside and eventually makes his way to the running back where he’s able to get involved in the TFL. Not only is this rep a good example of Thomas’ demeanor on the field but it also shows off some of his athletic ability and strength.
Drake Thomas does a beautiful job of working underneath the TE to occupy 2 blockers pic.twitter.com/4GS8YMzFhy— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) June 12, 2023
This next clip is similar to the one above as Texas Tech is in an ace formation and runs duo with the tight end at the bottom of the screen working across the formation to serve as a lead blocker.
It’s second and short and the Wolfpack opt to stick with their 3-3-5 defensive look, meaning they have three deep safeties on the field so Thomas knows he can crash downhill hard against the run without worrying too much about play action.
He shows off some decent speed while crashing and, again, he does a good job of pivoting right before the point of contact and using a rip move to win inside and defeat the block from a tight end. Thomas’ presence in the C-gap helps force the ball carrier to bounce outside.
While he doesn’t get involved in the tackle his time, he occupies two tight ends, including that lead blocker who should be one-on-one with the safety in the middle of the field. Instead, the safety has a free run at the running back to make an open-field tackle, the safety just doesn’t execute...
Size disadvantage be damned, Drake Thomas does a nice job of setting the edge pic.twitter.com/lV03f6WtEP— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) June 12, 2023
Here is another play that won’t show up on the stat sheet but is another impressive rep against a tight end who has a significant size advantage. Last year, No. 80 for the Red Raiders (tight end at the bottom of the screen) was listed at 6’9” and 260 pounds and Thomas stands at about 5’11” and 225 pounds.
Texas Tech is also getting a little tricky with the play design as the left tackle and guard pull to the right to give the linebackers a counter look to the short side of the field. However, they put the wide receiver in motion and have the running back lead block on the jet sweep to the left/wide side of the field for an outside run.
Thomas doesn’t fall for the eye candy though and meets that massive tight end just inside the hash mark, where he takes the fight to the blocker and is more physical to help make up for the size disadvantage. Now, this is far from a perfect rep, but he does do a good job of setting the edge and forcing the receiver to cut up the field and into the teeth of the defense.
These types of reps against tight ends should translate well at the next level if he’s going to play as a SAM or strong side backer in the NFL.
Nice pass off and pick up by Drake Thomas, then caps it off by forcing an incompletion pic.twitter.com/IM2aZ6vhxH— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) June 12, 2023
While Thomas’ physical limitations may show in man coverage, his football IQ can make him effective as an underneath defender in zone coverage.
Boston College is running Double China where the inside slot receiver is running a corner route and the two receivers outside of him have short in routes. NC State counters by rolling to a three deep, five under coverage with three pass rushers where our subject is going to be responsible for any short routes in the middle of the field.
Post-snap, he works for depth and gets his hands on the wideout running the corner while also using his eyes to recognize the passing concept. That allows him to open his hips back to the quarterback and pick up the short in route. Finally, he reads the quarterback’s eyes and gets his hand in the passing lane to help force an incompletion late in the game with his team up just six points. That’s a pretty clutch play in coverage.
Drake Thomas gets the OG’s attention and takes an efficient path to the QB in the stunt to force an incompletion pic.twitter.com/wteTnBXXYJ— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) June 12, 2023
Finally, we’ll end with what the NC State product can bring as a pass-rusher seeing as he left college with 19 sacks, 13.5 of which came over these past two seasons.
Pre-snap, he starts creeping toward the line of scrimmage as he’s about to blitz on the play. Initially, he starts working straight downhill to capture the guard’s attention and that works perfectly as the defense is running a stunt with Thomas and the defensive end. From the endzone view, watch how the guard’s eyes lock onto Thomas and the guard doesn’t even see the end crashing inside.
The tackle over-commits to the inside too, and that’s when the backer pounces and shows off that impressive athleticism we saw earlier to take an efficient path to the quarterback for a QB hit that forces an incompletion.
Thomas ended up getting a sack off this same stunt later in the game. Then, on a separate play, Boston College was anticipating the twist as he sold it and timed his rush perfectly to get a free run in the A-gap/inside of the guard to get another QB hit, almost like a coffee house stunt. That just goes to show how reps like the one above can impact the offense’s protection scheme.