One player who scouts should be excited to watch in Mobile is San Diego State edge rusher Cameron Thomas. After totaling 18.5 tackles for loss his first two seasons, Thomas more than surpassed that mark as a Junior on his way to 20.5. With potential to be a well above average player at defensive tackle and defensive end, Thomas is a versatile player worth taking a close look at.
Thomas is a smooth athlete who at times looks like he has ease working his way through the line. His athleticism gives him an advantage no matter where he’s lined up, but it’s especially noticeable when lined up against less athletic interior lineman. His quick, powerful hands are another way he can win and he uses a dangerous swim move that’s a handful for lineman to deal with. At 270 pounds, he has the ability to bend up field and create pressure, but he can also bull rush and overwhelm a lineman when needed.
What makes Thomas so unique is that he has the ability to line up anywhere on the defensive line and dominate. While natural athleticism plays a part, he’s also a former defensive tackle which is why despite moving to the edge, he’s still comfortable playing inside. This past season, Thomas played more snaps at defensive tackle than Jordan Davis but was also able to combine that with over 500 snaps at edge rusher. When lined up inside, Thomas compiled 11 pressures and was able to get 8 stops in the run game which is double the amount he had as a sophomore.
A clip that shows his versatility is here against Boise State this past season. He starts off lined up over the guard.
One of the things you’ll notice about Cameron Thomas is that he plays with a very high motor. This clip from his sophomore year against Nevada starts off with Thomas lined up at edge over the right tackle.
Thomas then uses his athleticism to stunt all the way across the line of scrimmage and get into the backfield where he’s able to disrupt the play and force Carson Strong outside the pocket. His previous experience at defensive tackle shows as he’s able to get skinny and easily get past both the interior lineman.
Even though he doesn’t initially get to Strong, Thomas still chases him down and hits him right as he’s about to throw.
After redshirting his first year on campus, Thomas put together a strong redshirt freshman season where he had 9.0 tackles for loss and an 82.1 pass rushing grade, which was higher than Kayvon Thibodeaux and George Karlaftis at the same stage. He was the only freshman selected to first team All-Conference and was a Second Team Freshman All-American by the Athletic.
Before his production fell off in the second half of the year, Thomas was putting together a higher rated season than Derrick Brown and Javon Kinlaw. When including defensive ends, Thomas had the 9th highest run defense grade through the first eight games of the season and was top 50 in pass rushing grade. He had a higher pass rushing grade at the time than K’Lavon Chaisson, Kwity Paye, and Yetur Gross-Matos. Thomas also threw in 40 total pressures in that season which outpaced all but three edge rushers in this draft class. Thomas was able to do this while primarily playing defensive interior that season, which shows how his natural pass rushing abilities show up no matter where he plays on the line. This also highlights his versatility, which is something he was able to build on in the latter stages of his college career.
From 2019 to 2020, Thomas upped his win rate from 13.0% to 15.9% and also increased his pressure percentage to 16.7%, second-highest in the class behind Nik Bonitto. Thomas was able to take a big jump in his advanced stats after his freshman year, but he didn’t become the best version of himself until he was a junior.
This past year Thomas looked like a different player on the field and that showed up in the box score. He moved with a different type of fluidity/explosiveness that he hadn’t shown in previous years which helped him total the third most pressures in the country behind Will Anderson and Aidan Hutchinson. Most impressively, Thomas beat his defender 40 times which was the second most of any defensive player in the country. His 22 quarterback hits were also the second highest in the country.
Cameron Thomas is very strong at eating up blocks and his ability to be disruptive in the run game is arguably the best of any defender in 2022. His 28 career tackles for loss + tackles for no gain in the run game rank first in the draft class. Because of the power and fluidness Thomas flashes, he can be hard for lineman to block whether in true pass sets or in the run game. Thomas would project the best as a 4-3 defensive end where they move him around to give him the flexibility to also play inside. However, because of versatility, Thomas would be a natural fit in almost every scheme.