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 him 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 clearly would be happy if that’s what he became. But all they really need him to do is eventually fill a hole at free safety. While it’s tough for a rookie fourth-round pick to become a Day One starter, Thomas does possess the skills Washington needs at safety. He’s smart and can make plays, evidenced 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.
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.”
Former Redskins safety Matt Bowen texted, “Surprised he was still there. Doesn’t have great speed or range, but he will get to the ball and finish.”
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 and that created a lot of pressure and do 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.”
Thomas said he played both strong and free safety at Fresno State.
“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.”