Scouting Profile: Tight End Ian Thomas

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
Apr 25, 2018

Ian Thomas is one of the better all-around tight ends entering the draft, but he’s not likely to make an impact early in his career

Ian Thomas, Indiana

Height: 6’4″
Weight: 259 pounds
40-yard dash: 4.74 seconds
Vertical: 36.0 inches
Broad Jump: 9’3″

One of the smaller prospects at tight end, Thomas measured in a 6-foot-3 and a half, which gives him the nudge to 6-foot-4 on the measurement chart. He’s considered one of the raw prospects at the position, as he played just 11 games in two years while at Indiana. Most tight ends take years to develop in the NFL, and that’s with three or four years of experience. Don’t expect Thomas to walk onto a team and contribute right away.

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During his nine games in his senior season, Thomas caught 25 passes for 376 with five of them being for touchdowns. There were just four games where he had more than two catches, showing that Indiana didn’t even attempt to use him as a focal point of the offense. With such a limited sample size, it’s hard to find any trends in Thomas’ numbers. Prior to Indiana, he was at a community college for two years.

Size/Versatility: 3.0 out of 5 stars
He’s not exactly the traditional build of today’s tight end, but Thomas isn’t small by any means. He’s built thick in the lower half of his body, which is good for his blocking. It also allows him to be used as an in-line tight end more than some of the receiving tight ends in this draft. Thomas can also line up in the slot, but putting him out wide wouldn’t be wise. By doing that, he’d match-up with some of the toughest cornerbacks, and he’s not going to win those matchups. He’s best suited to take advantage of slower linebackers. His size also doesn’t allow for a large red zone target, which is obviously a knock on his size and versatility, as most teams fall in love with getting their tight end involved in the red zone.

Route Running/Ability to Separate: 2.0 out of 5 stars
You can almost tell that Thomas hasn’t been playing the position very long, as he gives away routes when he starts decelerating. It’s almost as if he’s telegraphing the route like you would when going through drills on a practice field. His movements aren’t horrible, as he’s definitely got natural athleticism, but he needs plenty of refining to make his routes look a bit more natural. A bit inconsistent in his effort, some routes look better than others. His awareness when it comes to reading a zone-defense could also use some work, as he needs to learn better angles to help create bigger windows for his quarterback.

Speed: 2.5 out of 5 stars
His speed is not bad for someone who is 260 pounds. Has the speed to beat linebackers, but cornerbacks will go stride-for-stride with him, hence the reason he shouldn’t be lined up on the perimeter. His game-speed has essentially one gear at this time, though it’s something he may acquire and understand with more experience.

Hands/High-Pointing: 4.0 out of 5 stars
From the limited sample we have, Thomas seems like a natural hands-catcher who can track the ball over his shoulder. He also adjusts well to balls that are over/underthrown, sometimes reaching back to snag a ball with one hand that was thrown behind him. While on an even playing-field with everyone else at the Combine, Thomas was thrown a ball that was clearly behind him in the gauntlet, where he reached out with one hand, pulled it into his body and turned upfield all in one motion. It was a confirmation of the great hands he’s shown on the limited tape we have available. He’s not going to be someone you just throw a jump-ball to in the end zone, as he’s simply not that player.

After the Catch: 2.0 out of 5 stars
His vision is lacking. There was a play where he had about 10 yards in between him and the sideline with a safety coming from the middle of the field to make the tackle. Rather than taking the optimal angle towards the sideline and extending his space, he simply stayed in a straight line and was tackled short of the end zone. This seemed like an easy situation to show your awareness on the field, but he failed to realize it. He’s willing to throw a stiff arm in a defender’s face, but if he can’t see where the opening is to break a long play, it won’t matter. His strong lower body does make it difficult for smaller defensive backs to wrap up and bring down, but it won’t be often he sees them in coverage.

Blocking: 3.0 out of 5 stars
There’s impact when he throws his body into defender. He needs to build a stronger base when blocking, as he’ll often jump or lean into the defender. When he does that, they can slide or spin off his block relatively easily. When he firms up his base in pass-blocking, he does a great job. Blocking should really be a strength of his once he learns better technique, as he understands how to use his weight. There’s a solid foundation here, but like most other things in his game, it needs refining.

Potential Landing Spot
There’s plenty of teams who can use depth at tight end, so it’s tough to narrow down one spot in particular. So instead of saying where he’s likely headed, I’ll go with a team that I’d like to see him land with. The Redskins are a team that’s featured the tight end position under Jay Gruden, and their depth chart may not be as deep as it once was. Not only did they lose Niles Paul, but Vernon Davis is nearing the end of his career, while Jordan Reed simply tries to get on the field. The current depth would allow him to take reps as a backup with an eventual role as a starter in a tight end-friendly offense.

NFL Comparison
When talking about someone as raw as Thomas, it’s hard to compare him to a player that most people are familiar with. Instead, I’ll go with the player he may be able to become, and that’s Ben Watson. Both are build extremely solid in their lower half, possess above average speed for players of their weight (though Watson was even faster), and both are naturally athletic, though they aren’t the biggest red zone threats. It took some time for Watson to find his place in the league and I’d expect something similar for Thomas.

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Calvin Ridley (WR – Alabama)
James Washington (WR – Oklahoma State)
Courtland Sutton (WR – Southern Methodist)
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Baker Mayfield (QB – Oklahoma)
Josh Rosen (QB – UCLA)
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Lamar Jackson (QB – Louisville)
Mason Rudolph (QB – Oklahoma State)
Dallas Goedert (TE – South Dakota)
Mike Gesicki (TE – Penn State)
Hayden Hurst (TE – South Carolina)
Mark Andrews (TE – Oklahoma)

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Mike Tagliere is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeTagliereNFL.

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