Film Breakdown: What does Jeff Thomas bring to the Patriots’ Offense?

It’s no secret that the Patriots wide receiving corps left much to be desired during the 2019 season. The group ranked 32nd in regards to separation created. The team rostered a pair of rookies (one of which missed 9 games) in addition to a pair of talented but troubled veterans (Josh Gordon and Antonio Brown) who ultimately didn’t make it to the end of the season with the team. The Patriots were forced to rely heavily on Julian Edelman.

Even though the Patriots spent a first-round draft pick on the position in last years’ draft, many expected the Patriots to double down and select another receiver in such a deep and talented 2020 draft class. Fans were met with disappointment when the three-day event came to a close without the Patriots using a single selection on a wide receiver. However, the Patriots did add a handful of intriguing undrafted rookie receivers including one player who many thought had the talent to hear his name called in the middle rounds of the draft. Today we’re going to take a look at former University of Miami Hurricane Jeff Thomas and how he could be used in the Patriots’ offense.

Pure Talent and Athleticism

First things first: Jeff Thomas doesn’t lack talent. His going undrafted had nothing to do with his talent and everything to do with concerns about his character. In college, Thomas was dismissed in 2018 from the Miami football team for unspecified reasons before returning for his final year in 2019. During this time, Thomas didn’t do much to help his stock when it came to character concerns. Thomas broke another unspecified team rule and was suspended two games as a result. Still, Thomas has obvious talent so it remains a bit of a surprise that a team did not take a late-round flier on the speedster from St. Louis. In any event, Thomas is a Patriot now and if he can keep things above board, the Patriots got themselves a steal.

Thomas is an electric athlete. Give him the ball in space and he’s going to create for himself. He has shown the ability to slip tackles and has impressive contact balance to fight through tackles.

As a runner, he shows good vision and elusiveness. His agility is never more apparent than when he makes moves in the open field.

Route Running

Yes, Thomas has great athleticism but he’s more than a great athlete. Despite a route tree in college that was less than varied, Thomas showed promise as a route runner in college.

Running a corner route vs Virginia Tech corner Caleb Farley (a top prospect in the 2021 draft) Thomas sells an inside route which forces Farley to open his hips to the inside. Thomas then breaks to the corner and opens up two yards of separation for an easy touchdown catch.

Here, Thomas runs a good route and gets open again. It’s a seam route shot play. Thomas is open early and crosses the face of the defender to slow his pursuit. He then moves back inside to track the ball. That subtle move to cross the defenders’ path completely erases him from the play as he has to slow down just a little bit.

Thomas’ ability to set up his breaks is a big part of what makes him a valid deep threat, even when he’s not getting the ball. Plenty of times when watching him play forces the defender to think it’s an out-breaking route. As a result, the corner opens his hips that way. Thomas moves the defender out of position with a little lean and a head fake. If the quarterback looks Thomas’ way, it’s a touchdown.

The fact that Thomas wasn’t a more prolific producer in college is a great shame. His ability to get separation is special. He sells moves so well and forces defenders to commit prematurely.

Speed

Up to this point, we’ve ignored what makes Thomas such an exciting player to watch: His deep speed. Clocking in at 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash, Thomas is already the second-fastest player the Patriots have.

His speed forces defenses to play way off to avoid getting beat deep. In some instances, we saw teams play 10-yards off Thomas on third and manageable. That’s just not something you see unless you’re a serious deep threat.

On this play, Thomas gets matched up one on one with a safety. The defensive back plays 10-yards off but it’s still no contest. Watch as Thomas tracks this deep ball beautifully.

And again, imagine giving this kind of real estate and still getting burnt on the slot fade. Thomas has ridiculous deep speed.

The ball tracking here is phenomenal. Also, note the catch. The degree of difficulty it takes to come down with an underthrown ball fading outside is insane.

Thomas also offers something that the Patriots lacked in 2019: A receiver who can beat press coverage AND threaten the deep secondary.

The release here is good. The route, where he sells outside to widen the safety, is better. Getting behind literally every defender on third and a mile? Priceless.

Catch Radius

Thomas doesn’t have a very large natural catch radius. He’s a small receiver with short arms who doesn’t catch with his hands. That’s usually a recipe for drops and frequently missed connections, but that doesn’t appear to be a big issue for Thomas.

He adjusts to the ball as well as we’ve seen from any rookie receiver, not named Justin Jefferson.

His leaping ability and body control allow him to make plays outside of his frame, not unlike what we saw out of Danny Amendola in New England.

2020 Outlook

In three years at Miami, Thomas lined up on the outside and in the slot. Given his size (5’9″), speed (4.45s 40), and agility in combination with how the Patriots typically define the roles of their receivers, it’s likely that New England will deploy Thomas primarily in the slot role. Expect Josh McDaniels to also try and move him around to capitalize on matchups. With what he’s shown on tape, it’s not crazy to think that Thomas has the potential to play a role similar to that of Amendola and Brandin Cooks for the Patriots.

When you really dive in on the tape for Thomas, what you see is a player that has NFL ability. That he was undrafted should not be taken to mean he lacks talent. No player on the Patriots currently does what Thomas can and that should open the door for him to make the team, provided he has a strong training camp. Thomas’ ability to produce in New England hinges entirely on his ability to stay out of trouble and remain on the team. If the Patriots can get Thomas to buy-in there’s a strong possibility that the Patriots may have unearthed another undrafted gem.

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One thought on “Film Breakdown: What does Jeff Thomas bring to the Patriots’ Offense?

  • August 16, 2020 at 2:27 pm
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    Fully on board with the potential of Jeff Thomas, but it’s a tough choice if the Pats have to sacrifice Meyers or Byrd to keep him. Something tells me that Jeff does not make it back to the Patriots practice squad if cut. Same with JJ Taylor.

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