The NFL draft season has begun. Which means speculation over who the Redskins will take in the second round. The first name dropped by ESPN’s Mel Kiper that Washington could target: Fresno State safety Phillip Thomas.
“He’s a very underrated player, he’s around the ball a lot, a lot of impact hits,” Kiper said, “good in coverage as well.”
Thomas was named to the Associated Press All-American team after intercepting a Mountain West record eight interceptions. That total also led the nation. He also was a strong contender for the Jim Thorpe award, which goes to the nation’s best defensive back. In fact, some national writers predicted he would win the honor.
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Thomas missed all of 2011 after breaking his leg and dislocating his ankle three days before the season began.
The one drawback: Thomas is listed as a strong safety. Though they’ll take a playmaker at any spot in the secondary, their need for a free safety is greater. Can Thomas play this spot? Kiper didn’t say (and I’ll find out later in the draft process).
Here’s what Fresno Bee reporter Bryant-Jon Anteola had to say about Thomas in a Q&A with the Oregonian before FSU’s matchup vs. Oreon: “Fresno State’s old defensive coordinator from a year ago said Phillip Thomas was maybe the best safety in the country prior to his injury. A few NFL scouts who’ve shown up to Bulldogs practices have concurred. Phillip Thomas doesn’t have the speed of De’Anthony Thomas. But Phillip has quite the size advantage and can lay a hit.”
Another name to watch in later rounds: Georgia Southern’s J.J. Wilcox. If nothing else he’s a terrific athlete having played mostly slot receiver his first three seasons. During that time he rushed 137 times for 964 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also caught 45 passes for 898 yards and four more touchdowns. However, he was switched to strong safety this past season and will be someone to watch at the Senior Bowl later this month.
Wilcox also offers kick return skills, having averaged 25.5 yards on 30 returns.
“He’s a nice player with versatility,” Kiper said, also calling him a good athlete. “He emerged this year and is someone to keep an eye on.”
The Redskins do not have a first-round pick; it was traded to St. Louis as part of the deal for Robert Griffin III.