clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Drake Thomas is making a strong first impression on Josh McDaniels

The UDFA is standing out early in minicamp

NC State v North Carolina
Drake Thomas
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Life as a rookie undrafted free agent can be tough. While they still have a chance to make the 53-man roster at the end of training camp, UDFAs typically start offseason workouts with a steep uphill battle at the bottom of the depth chart. Las Vegas Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels understands this struggle as he explained in response to a question about former NC State linebacker Drake Thomas’ progress to date.

“We have a number of players - half our roster is undrafted,” McDaniels replied. “So those players understand like, ‘I’ve got to work my butt off. I’ve got to really love every aspect of the game so I can try to improve.’”

So far, it seems like Thomas is doing exactly what he needs to by fulfilling those requirements laid out by the head coach in minicamp and OTAs.

“Loves football, works hard,” McDaniels said of the undrafted rookie linebacker. “...Every rep he takes is a very intentional rep for him, whether it’s in an individual period, a group period or team period. Good communicator, learns quickly, really studies hard from one day to the next so he’s prepared the next day, and [is] a good teammate. You can tell the guys like him.”

That last line from McDaniels is significant and something that stood out at the end of Thomas’ career at NC State.

He declared for the NFL Draft ahead of the team’s bowl game last December, however, unlike many other draft prospects nowadays, he opted to play in the team’s postseason contest.

“No matter how high my draft stock is, I don’t think I could ever opt out of a bowl game,” Thomas explained to “What this university has given me, the relationships I’ve built with my teammates, my coaches [and] people in the building.”

Duke’s Mayo Bowl - Maryland v NC State
Drake Thomas gets a sack during the Duke’s Mayo Bowl
Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

It’s easy to see why the linebacker was a two-time captain in college, and his leadership and dedication didn’t go unnoticed.

“[Thomas’ decision to play in the Mayo Bowl is] one of the reasons he’s a captain here,” NC State head coach Dave Doeren said of Thomas’ decision. “Those things [sitting out] don’t go through your head when you’re one of those guys. So, I’m proud of him, thankful for him and looking forward to watching ‘32’ run around and hit people.”

Thomas certainly “hit people” and made an impact last season with the Wolfpack. He finished 2022 as Pro Football Focus’ fourth-highest-graded run defender (90.5) among all FBS linebackers and compiled 52 defensive stops, fourth-most in the ACC.

Moving forward, the undrafted free agent looks to prove that those numbers will translate to the next level despite slipping through the cracks last April, and McDaniels seems to think Thomas can beat the odds based on the quote below.

“They’re all the same once they’re Raiders,” the coach explained is the mentality he’s been preaching to the team. “So, it’s not really about how you got here, it’s what you do here, so Drake [Thomas] has really embraced that along with a lot of the other guys that we have in that capacity, but there’s a lot to like about him.

“He’s a good football player, period. You know what I mean? If you look at how tall he is and all the rest of it, you can say a lot about a lot of guys in that capacity. But at the end of the day, when the ball snapped he does a good job of making plays and doing his job.”

The 5’11” Thomas will be battling it out with Luke Masterson, Darien Butler, Amari Burney (2022 sixth-round pick), Curtis Bolton and Kana’i Mauga for one of the reserve linebacker spots on Las Vegas’ roster. Again, he has an uphill battle that is far from over but, from the sounds of it, he’s taking steps in the right direction so far.