When the Colts hired Chuck Pagano and his 3-4 Defensive style, we knew it would take a few years to get players that fit the system after the Colts had played the Tampa-2 4-3 style for over a decade. There aren't too many college teams that play the 3-4, so when a guy has actually played in the Defense, and played it well, the Colts definitely should look a bit longer at him. Chase Thomas of Stanford, a 3-4 OLB, should absolutely be on the Colts radar.
Thomas was a four year player on "the Farm", making an appearance in all 53 games for Stanford, starting the last 48 of them, which included eight starts as a Freshman at 4-3 DE. After the 2009 season Vic Fangio was brought in as Defensive Coordinator, making the switch to a 3-4 Defense, which he played in for his final three seasons for the Cardinal.
When you play in 53 games you're bound to rack up some stats, which Thomas certainly did: 229 tackles, 27.5 sacks and 50.5 tackles for loss. Add in a couple fumble recoveries (one of which was the only TD scored by Stanford against Notre Dame, although Step'fan Taylor is still stretching while on the ground), nine forced fumbles and two interceptions. He was selected First Team All Pac-12 as a Junior and Senior.
When reading about Thomas, and after watching him play a handful of times last season, what jumps out to me is how incredibly consistent he is, in a good way. He's not going to blow you away with speed or athleticism, but he's going to be in the right position at the right time, and he's going to make plays. For a guy being projected in the 3rd-4th Round, you can't ask much more than that. National Football Post, which I linked below, relates him to Paul Kruger, who many think will be a big target for the Colts in Free Agency. If that doesn't pan out, Thomas could fill the exact same role, for a lot less money in 2013.
He'd fit immediately into the Colts rotation, as you can't keep a guy so consistent in both the run and pass game off the field. Drafting him would most likely end the stay of Jerry Hughes after this season, but a fresh start somewhere else may be the best thing for Hughes anyway. It'll be interesting to see how much new Offensive Coordinator Pep Hamilton will "pound the table" for Thomas, as they didn't work directly together, but Hamilton will know a lot of the intangible stuff that seems to separate players more than on-the-field stuff now. Let's hope it's enough for the Colts to pull the trigger on another of Andrew Luck's buddies.
Versatile edge defender who finds the ball regularly and has made plays at linebacker or defensive end. Displays violent and strong hands to get past the shoulder of his blocker on an edge rush or disengage when containing his side. Works his way though trash well on this inside, showing a bit of quickness to cut into the A-gap for run plays (or B-gap as a blitzer), work his man upfield on the pass rush or spin inside to take advantage of that lane.
Not an elite pass rusher with pure power, great flexibility or upfield speed to turn the corner. Also lacks top closing speed, relies on hustle to make plays. Lacks lengths and bulk, offensive tackles can keep him at bay and mirror him easily as an edge rusher. Needs to continue to get stronger, getting off blocks and keeping leverage will be a bit tougher against NFL linemen.
STRENGTHS - An under-rated athlete, Thomas has the skills to produce rushing the passer, chasing down ball carriers and in pass coverage. Aggressive rushing the passer and with a variety of pass rush moves, Thomas has consistently displayed the ability to defeat the OT to pressure the QB. Once he defeats pass blocker he has an explosive closing burst to the QB.
WEAKNESSES - The only real knocks on Thomas are that he lacks premier first step explosiveness to be an elite speed rusher and is not a top level athlete. He will likely be downgraded by some teams because his lack of great athleticism and Combine testing numbers will concern them.
SUMMARY - When I was evaluating Andrew Luck in 2011, Chase Thomas constantly jumped off the film when the Stanford defense was on the field and his play has only gotten better this season. While not the 265 pound OLB that has become popular in many 34 defenses, Thomas is more than strong enough to be a force against run blocks and productive as a "bull rusher." He reminds me of a more athletic version of the Ravens Paul Kruger and I believe he will be a better player than him.
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