Utter the name “Logan Thomas” on Twitter and assign some positives to his game before the NFL Draft and the most likely responses coming your way were derision and confusion. The cynicism stems from the failures of NFL teams that have consistently pursued big, strong quarterbacks without enough regard for pocket presence, capacity to learn fast, and work ethic. The tweet pictured above was actually a joke I made in reference to teams that were stepping clear of Teddy Bridgewater and not a joke about Logan Thomas.
Here was my overall thoughts on Thomas, which generated some of that derision when I maintained an open mind about the Virginia Tech starter earlier in the year:
‘When I plugged the tape in yesterday morning and I saw Logan Thomas, I was shocked. He was fantastic in this game (against the Texans). He’s big, strong and he can rip throws,’ Jaworski said. ‘… Of all the rookie quarterbacks that I’ve watched so far — yes, early in the preseason — Logan Thomas has been the best that I have seen.”
Jaworski is a passionate guy and his takes make exciting television, but I wouldn’t completely write off his observations as ESPN’s proclivity for network sensationalism.
Note: I watched the Thomas’ attempts from that game and nothing about the performance stood out as “he did everything that we heard he cannot do.” Then again, I understand why Seth Cox made this statement in his review of Thomas’ performance — most people wrote off Thomas’ game because of the nature of his issues at Virginia Tech. It was another case of people throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
I have seen moments from Thomas that would lead an NFL team to consider him as a project.
When comparing notes with draft writer Eric Stoner, he told me he observed tape of Thomas during a Virginia Tech practice last year where he completed a progression and reacted like a kid who finally learned how to ride a bicycle. Stoner says Thomas wasn’t even taught to make progression reads until his senior year.
If this is the case, Thomas’ poor decisions aren’t only his to blame. I haven’t verified if Stoner’s statements are true, but I do respect his work — especially his study of quarterbacks. What I can share with complete confidence is what I saw when I studied Thomas.
I like to joke that Jaworski’s love of arm strength is so strong that it’s on a level of objectification that we’ve seen from men obsessed with women’s breasts. Here’s an example of Thomas’ arm strength that required Jaworski to pause the tape and look for a napkin. It’s a 1st and 10 deep slant to the back shoulder of the wide receiver that Thomas throws from the opposite hash of the Virginia Tech 42 and covers 21 yards of vertical distance.
In addition to the arm strength to “rip it” (yes, Jaws, it feels good to say that phrase out loud — even more than “LAY-ZER!”), Thomas displays some poise against five defenders applying pressure. The pocket holds up well and gives Thomas time to step into the throw, but it’s still a well-time pass with enough distance that the placement under the safety and ahead of the cornerback is impressive.
Because I’ve been doing this work for a decade, it has become a habit for me to think of plays when I hear the name of a prospect. This completion below is the first one that comes to mind when I hear Thomas’ name. It’s a 1st and 10 attempt with 2:58 in the third quarter from a 1×2 receiver, 11 personnel shotgun. Duke appears to be in a 3-3-5 alignment with one safety deep, sending four defenders to the pocket. Thomas knows that he has single coverage up the left sideline and does a fantastic job of exploiting it.
He drops three steps and fires the ball from the right hash eight yards deep in the end zone, hitting the receiver in stride with perfect placement. The Blue Devil’s defensive back could have been draped over the back of the wide receiver like a cape and Thomas’ throw would have given the receiver an advantage. Thomas makes this 56-yard throw with ease. When a coach sees a quarterback do this type of work and learns that the prospect hasn’t been exposed to advanced concepts of the game, it raises the appeal of making him a long-term project.
What makes or breaks many NFL prospects is their pocket presence. Thomas is no exception. The Cardinals passer’s skills in the pocket are in a purgatory between promising and deficient. It sounds like there would be a big gap between these two levels, but it’s a fine line.
A good example is this 3rd and 10 with 9:59 in the third quarter. Thomas is looking at a 3-3-5 defense with one deep safety. He initially looks left while taking a five-step drop, feels the pressure up the middle, and slides to the right. I give good marks to Thomas for waiting until the pressure was almost on top of him to slide and run. He sensed the pressure, but didn’t overreact to it.
I also like the decisiveness of the play. Thomas read the middle of the field and made the quick assessment that tucking the ball would be a better option. I could argue that Thomas might have found a player down field if he were more patient and kept his eyes on the coverage while maintaining a throwing stance. However, it’s more likely that this 3-3-5 alignment would have pinned Thomas tight to the line of scrimmage while still covering the underneath receivers and forced Thomas to make an all-or-nothing vertical throw.
Here’s another play where Thomas displays skill at climbing the pocket, but he’s not seeing the field clear enough to make throws that are available to him. Thomas executes a three-step drop against this 3-3-5 look where two defenders ate 15 yards deep along the hashes. When the three-man pressure reaches the pocket, Thomas does a beautiful job of climbing while keeping his eyes on the coverage.
As soon as he climbs, he opts to run rather than target two open receivers. Thomas makes a defender miss and breaks a tackle, but for an eight-yard gain on 3rd and 10, he took a lot of punishment not to earn the first down late in a game where he’s down by three and might have one possession left if this drive fails.\
Here’s the shot of what’s developing the split second before Thomas decides to run after climbing the pocket rather than throw the ball.
Thomas is not making the connection between the bracket of the short option and the open spots that bracketed coverage creates. He doesn’t demonstrate this ingrained understanding and as a result he’s reacting to what he sees one moment at a time rather than anticipating where he’ll go if one area is coverage. Further, Thomas hasn’t integrated how to handle this down and distance scenario as a decision maker. He tried to be a hero, which works in high school and sometimes in college, but rarely in the NFL.
This is the type of play that Thomas will need to do a better job of executing if he wants to become a reliable NFL starter. Philip Rivers dreams about being as athletic as Thomas and having the arm that makes Jaworski slobber, but he’s light years ahead of the Cardinals’ passer when it comes to managing pressure and finding that open area to throw the ball while climbing the pocket.
Major Construction Ahead
Thomas’ skill at reading the field is what will ultimately make or break him. The Cardinals are sold enough on the idea that Thomas has potential to develop his conceptual understanding of the game despite the fact that he was deficient in this pivotal area during his college career. It’s a risky proposition, but one I hope we’ll hear more from the organization down the line because a lot of Thomas’ tape as a decision maker is ugly.
This is the type of play that I criticized Brandon Weeden for making at Oklahoma State — anticipating where he should go, but not reading the field to confirm it. It’s a 2nd and 7 with 14:03 in the half at the 19 of Virginia Tech and Thomas is facing a 3-3-5 with one safety deep at the left hash. Based on field position alone, a quarterback needs to make sure he’s cautious with the football: No blind throws and protect the ball.
Duke sends five to the pocket with the ROLB and nickel DB leading the way from the right edge. Thomas looks at the deep safety during the initial three-step drop and feels the outside pressure. I like the Thomas is trying to set up the screen with his initial look to the safety, but he has a clear read of the running back on this play as the ROLB reaches the pocket and shouldn’t have forced the ball. Thomas made a similar mistake against North Caroline, forcing the ball into underneath coverage. In the NFL, this is a first and goal or a pick-six for the opposition.
The next set of plays explain the title of this post — Thomas needs a lot of work reading underneath coverage.
Again, it’s good that Thomas can hitch comfortably and remain in a good throwing position and the arm strength and desire to go down field are positive traits. However, he doesn’t account for the two defenders at the 15 and the pass targeting the deep cross.
The very next play is even worse. Duke plays two deep and every defensive back is between six to seven yards off the line of scrimmage. Thomas executes a five-step drop, looks to the middle, hitches a step, and targets to the left flat on a deep out at the 13 — completely ignoring or not accounting for the underneath coverage.
This is yet another target that should have been picked off and it’s still the first quarter. Sadly, this is not how the series ends. If you don’t succeed jamming the ball through the underneath defender twice, why not try it a third time? It’s exactly what Thomas tries on 4th and 11.
In terms of mechanics — base accuracy, rhythm of feet, and velocity — it’s a beautiful throw. However, it’s downright fugly as a decision.
Three consecutive throws, three “should’ve been” interceptions. And we’re not done. Here’s a fourth-quarter dig route where he doesn’t read the underneath coverage for “should’ve been No.4”
Thomas finishes this game with an interception that was the fault of the wide receiver (for a change), but the egregious mistake on this play is Thomas missing the deep post.
The Duke tape wasn’t the only example of Thomas flashing the sublime and the wretched within the same contest. NFL preseason games have a lot of vanilla defensive looks — especially when coaches are putting the second-team unit on the field to watch them execute and evaluate them in fundamental respects — so it’s not too surprising that Thomas looked good in his first extended time on the field.
Where the rubber meets the road will be Thomas’ improvement as a student of the game. The Cardinals have made a bet that Thomas’ deficiencies are the product of a lack of experience and not willfully making the wrong decisions in situations where he should have known better. It’s one of the more fascinating experiments that could be a developing story line over the next 3-4 seasons.
For analysis of skill players in this year’s draft class, download the 2014 Rookie Scouting Portfolio and the RSP Post-Draft. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the 56-page Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2014 RSPs at no additional charge and available for download now. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 apiece.