No doubting Thomas
Big school vs. small school: Bottom line is between the lines
Updated: Monday April 12, 2004 2:56PM
Never one to back down from an argument, I want to challenge the masses to take sides in a debate: Big school vs. small school -- does it really matter at which college you played when the ball is kicked off?
State your take as succinctly as possible -- comparing a big-name school's draft hopeful against a small-baller -- then we will post the best pro/con responses April 22 of draft week.
How does Chris Gamble remain the end-all cornerback when his overall performance was eclipsed by Joey Thomas at the NFL Scouting Combine?
Because Gamble played at Ohio State, while Thomas toiled at relatively tiny Montana State. Gamble was mentioned in the same breath as Heisman, but Thomas couldn't get a look outside of Bozeman.
Heck, even Rick Neuheisel told Thomas he'd never play D-back in the Pac-10. And just who was the last Washington DB to get drafted -- and stick in the NFL -- coach? Twelve Huskies between 1999-2002 were drafted; two were defensive backs. Omare Lowe? Three years, three NFL games. Hakim Akbar? Three years, 10 games.
Now Thomas wants a chance to prove himself in the NFL. But he knows the deck is stacked against him -- not because of his talent, but because of where he went to college. And he makes a good argument against the media's infactuation with big-school players.
"If this whole draft thing is about getting the best players," Thomas argues, "then since when is having 'great upside' or 'incredible athletic talent' a bad thing?"
It's true, scouts point to Thomas' upside and athleticism as pluses, and scout Rob Rang says Thomas could be chosen anywhere from No. 25 to 45th overall. Thomas, who was one of the first players invited to the Senior Bowl, made an indelible impression at the Combine when he bench-pressed 225 pounds 17 times.
However, there are those who quickly point to the level of play in Division I-AA.
"Oh, I'm raw," sighs Thomas. "That's a plus, I think. I just have that much more room to get better. My best days are ahead of me. I mean, it's not like all these D-I corners were playing against all-world wide receivers.
"People questioned me before the Senior Bowl, but I did well there. Then I went to the Combine and I did all the drills, everything that was asked, and did well there -- and I still feel like I'm five steps behind. Forget that I'm taller and weigh more than most of the other [cornerbacks], but I still have the speed they do -- if not more speed."
Again, he's right. Thomas is 6-foot-1, weighs 195 pounds and ran a 4.44 at Indy, compared to the 6-1, 198-pound Gamble, who has been clocked at 4.45. In fact, Thomas, Gamble and Jeremy Leseuer (6-0, 197, 4.53) of Michigan are the only other cornerbacks among the top 20 prospects at the position above 6-feet.
"All these [cornerbacks] have strengths, all do something well," says Thomas. "But none of them are me. What do they want, a Mini-Me or the real thing? Do you want a 5-10 guy covering Randy Moss, or do you want me?
"Why shouldn't I be confident?" he asks, obviously offering a hypothetical. "What's wrong with saying I can play? It's simple: If you want a confident cornerback, if you want a guy who can accomplish something, I'm your guy. ... Numbers are not everything; you've got to look at football players, but I am the fastest cornerback over 6 feet."
Now consider the influx of height at wide receiver in this year's draft: Larry Fitzgerald, 6-2; Mike Williams, 6-5; Roy Williams, 6-2; Reggie Williams, 6-3; Michael Clayton, 6-2; Rashaun Woods, 6-2; Lee Evans, 5-11.
So in the end does it really matter where Thomas -- or any other talented small-school player -- went to college? Isn't the bottom line between the lines?
B. Duane Cross is a senior producer for SI.com.