The 2013 draft process has officially begun, and to kick things I’ve decided to break down my top prospect entering the year: Virginia Tech Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas.
Thomas is only a junior, but his size, athleticism and arm strength are unmatched by anyone in this year’s class. And while Matt Barkley will likely receive much of the early-season hype, if Thomas performs as expected he’ll have a chance to overtake Barkley as the consensus No. 1.
To get things started, I charted Thomas’ performance against Virginia and Miami in 2011. For each game I created an excel sheet (vs Miami 2011 – vs Virginia 2011) which includes a few stats and observations from each time he dropped back to pass (designed runs not included). You’ll also noticed on the right side of the excel sheet, his totals from that game in a few designated categories.
Here’s are my observations from these two games…
I’ll start with the biggest negative about Thomas’s game: his technique. When dropping back to pass, even under no pressure at all, his footwork is atrocious. He sometimes looks like a kid playing intramural football the way he drops back, with absolutely no concept for how to maneuver in the pocket or set his feet to throw. He routinely throws from an open stance and/or off his back foot, even when he has a solid pocket around him.
He’s likely developed these bad habits because he’s never been forced to refine them. Even now, he is often bigger than every defensive end and linebacker on the opposing team, so he’s rarely concerned with getting hit. On one play in the Virginia game he has a defender draped around his waist and still manages to throw a bullet to a receiver 12 yards down the field. With his size and arm strength, refined footwork has never been necessary. But it will become more of an issue at the next level, where defenders and bigger, stronger and faster and the passing lanes are smaller. It will be interesting to see how he develops this aspect of his game during the 2012 season.
Thomas is a rare physical specimen and the only pros that he can reasonably be compared to are Cam Newton and Ben Roethlisberger. You just don’t find quarterbacks with his size and athleticism every day, which is exactly why he will be a top 10 pick when he enters the draft. While his designed runs aren’t included in the charts, Virginia Tech uses him on play action runs at least three to five times per game, and he consistently picks up five yards per carry. But what makes him even more special, and in this respect he’s more Newton and Roethlisberger, is the fact that he also has the speed to pick up chunks of yardage on the ground. He broke off long runs up the middle in both games.
Of the stats I charted, arguably most crucial is the “accuracy” category. Completion percentage is a good guideline, but there are a number of factors which can help or hurt a quarterback in this area. However, while charting accuracy I consider where the ball is placed in relation to the receiver and the defender. For example, a low throw towards the sideline to a receiver in tight coverage can be a great throw, but the same pass to a wide open receiver on a curl route would be classified as inaccurate. By this measure, the quarterback doesn’t benefit or get hurt by the play of his receivers.
Thomas’ completion percentage in both these games was impressive and, fortunately, he has the accuracy percentage to back it up. In both games combined, 18 of his 20 throws beyond 10 yards (measured from the line of scrimmage) were accurate. These are the types of throws NFL teams are most concerned with, and if he can continue that rate of accuracy into the 2012 season, he will solidify his place atop many draft boards.
Virginia Tech runs an offense more similar to an NFL style than Baylor’s, so if Thomas has the tools to succeed no one will hesitate to make him a top pick. However, he does benefit from a favorable scheme which features plenty of snaps from the shutgun. Of the two games I charted, 88 percent of Thomas’ dropbacks came from the shotgun formation.
That said, Virginia Tech’s offense does feature a nice balance of deep, intermediate and short routes. Thomas has demonstrated the ability to remain patient in the pocket, and the ability to fire off a bullet to his receivers on a quick slant or dig pattern. So while he may not be as prepared to digest an NFL playbook as Matt Barkley, he definitely has to tools to play in any system.
What to watch for in 2012
I have no concerns whatsoever about Thomas’ skill set. Physically and mentally he has what it takes to be an elite quarterback at the next level. But he does need to polish up his footwork in the pocket. This issue immediately jumped out on tape, so it’s safe to assume the Hokies coaching staff has been working with him on some improvements. It should be fun to watch him develop, and we’ll get a good look at him in prime time as Virginia Tech opens the season on a Monday night against Georgia Tech.