Redskins draft pick Phillip Thomas is out to prove he's the steal of the draft

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Sports,NFL,Redskins,John Keim

Phillip Thomas watched the draft unfold without his name being called. It didn't rile him up. It didn't anger him. And it certainly didn't dent his confidence.

So when the Redskins selected the Fresno State safety in the fourth round Saturday, Thomas delivered a proclamation.

"I feel I'm going to be the steal of the draft," Thomas said.

The Redskins would be fine with that, considering the need they have at safety. It'll be tough for him to start immediately. Though he played strong safety at Fresno State in a scheme similar to Washington's, he does not have a lot of experience playing deep middle in the three-deep coverage the Redskins like to use. That means adapting to different angles as well as a higher level of speed. He struggled at times with tackling in the open field.

But Thomas does possess the skills Washington needs at safety. He's smart and can make plays, as shown by an NCAA-high eight interceptions last year for Fresno State and 13 for his career. Thomas was a unanimous All-American selection this past season.

"They've got one of the best ballhawk defensive backs coming out," Fresno State defensive coordinator Nick Toth said. "Very consistent. He has really high football IQ, so he'll pick up a scheme quickly and adapt during games pretty well. And he's physical. He's very explosive. They got a safety who can probably play every down."

His speed is a question mark -- he was timed in the 40-yard dash at the scouting combine in 4.68 seconds, though improved that to a 4.59 at his pro day.

One longtime coach who studied Thomas texted, "He's gonna be an impact player for them ... steal in the 4th."

Thomas did not play in 2011 after fracturing his left fibula three days before the opener. But he recovered well enough to have a terrific senior season.

"It's just instincts, man," Thomas said of the interceptions. "We changed our whole defense around last season, and in a 3-4 defense, that created a lot of pressure and did a lot of different things. I was able to just play a little looser and use my instincts and be the ballhawk I always knew I was."

Toth said, "His sense within a play of when he could take a shot at the ball and when he couldn't -- his innate sense -- was unbelievable."

Thomas said he doesn't anticipate a rough transition to free safety. The Redskins' safeties are interchangeable, but in the three-deep look, the free safety will be in the middle.

"My style allows me to play both," Thomas said. "I'm great at getting the ball when it's in the air. Also, I did a lot of things as far as blitzing and playing in the box. I feel I can do both. I'm an interchangeable safety who can make plays in the box and play in the [deep middle] and make plays in the air."

Thomas said he grew up a Redskins fan, based on having seen them play once on TV as a kid. His favorite player? Late Redskins safety Sean Taylor.

"To watch him play the game as aggressive as he was and as great a player as he was. ..." Thomas said. "He studied film and did everything he had to do and was a perfectionist at the game."

jkeim@washingtonexaminer.com

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John Keim

Staff Reporter - Washington Redskins
The Washington Examiner