Thomas the Tank
This is how the UDFA the Rams added ranked on Chad Reuter's list of best available UDFAs after the draft:
Cameron Dicker 2nd best specialist
Jack Snyder 10th best interior OL
Keir Thomas 19th best EDGE
Jake Hummel 24th best LB
Brayden Thomas 18th best EDGE
TJ Carter 32nd best CB
Roger Carter 24th best TE
Benton Whitley 5th best EDGE
Jamal Pettigrew 21st best TE
Dion Novil 12th best interior DL
Daniel Isom not ranked among top 43 safeties
Jairon McVea not ranked among top 43 safeties
Caesar Williams not ranked among top 39 CBs
Duron Lowe not ranked among top 39 CBs
Elijah Garcia not ranked among top 33 interior DL
Andrzej Hughes Murray not ranked among top 40 EDGE
Even though Keir Thomas was technically a DE in college, I'm not sure he's actually going to play as an EDGE defender at the NFL level. I see his best fit as being a 3 tech DT in a one gap, penetrating defense. He's a hybrid player who doesn't have a natural fit in any NFL position, so it will be interesting to see how the Rams attempt to use him and whether they ask him to add weight to bulk up or maybe attempt to lose weight to become an OLB.
Prior to the draft, I noted how the Rams don't have a true backup player at 3 tech behind Aaron Donald. Keir Thomas could be that player.
6'1 1/4'' tall, 255 pounds, 32 1/2'' arms, 9 5/8'' hands, 77 1/4'' wingspan
4.97 sec (40 time), 1.65 sec (10 yard split), 30.5'' vert, 9' broad, 19 bench reps. Injured hamstring running 40 at his pro day.
Right off the bat, you're probably looking at those numbers and might think that Thomas is terrible. Too short, lacks length, ran about 5 seconds in the 40, how can he possibly play as an edge rusher in the pros? Well, that's probably part of the reason why he wasn't invited to the Combine and wasn't drafted. NFL teams wrote him off, because he doesn't look the part, he doesn't fit the mold of a good prospect. The tape tells a different story, because Thomas is a good player. The question is whether he was just a good college player, or whether his skills translate to the next level.
Spent 6 seasons in college. 24 years old. Graduated in 2019 with degree in interdisciplinary studies. Not overly deep in interviews. Team captain at FSU in 2021. Bonus year senior who transferred from South Carolina.
Originally was a FSU commit back in 2015, but switched to SC. As true freshman in 2016, had 4 TFLs and 2 sacks for Gamecocks. 2017 (13 games) had 38 tackles, 4.5 TFLs and 2 sacks. Was listed at 262 pounds in 2017. 2018 (12 games) 44 tackles, 3.5 TFLs and 1.5 sacks.
Thomas progressively added weight and was up to 272 pounds in the spring of 2019. After flashing potential as a young player, he was expected to break out in 2019 with an even bigger season. He had an ankle injury in the fall that required surgery. An infection set in after the surgery that was "pretty serious" and he was forced to redshirt in 2019. He lost 20 pounds while fighting the infection.
He battled his way back and was listed at 275 pounds in 2020. In 7 games that year he had 32 tackles, 5.5 TFLs and 3 sacks. South Carolina used him as a DE, but also slid him inside at times to play as a DT.
He transferred to FSU for his bonus senior year. The Noles employed a hybrid 4 man front and used Thomas at what they call the "fox" position, which is a hybrid DE/LB role. On some snaps, the other 3 DL were down in 3 point stances, while Thomas was standing up in a 2 point stance. He was also rotated out for parts of the game. Other times, FSU slid Thomas inside and had him play at DT. So, while Thomas technically was listed as a 4-3 DE in 2021, in reality he had a variety of jobs, reading some plays as if he were a 3-4 type OLB and other plays playing as an interior DL.
2021 (12 games): 42 tackles, 12 TFLs, 6.5 sacks.
Due to his leg infection and the shortened 2020 season, the "breakout" year for Thomas finally happened in 2021.
Very intelligent player on the field. Smart chips on RBs and TEs to disrupt their route releases. Broke off pass rush to try to drop into passing lane on short pass. Finds the ball well with his eyes.
Uses his hands very well, advanced technical ability. Might have been drafted early if he had been blessed with a bigger body, more athleticism and physical gifts, but ended up an UDFA, because he doesn't have the right body to combine with his technical skill.
Good arsenal of pass rush moves. Has a plan and sets up the lineman. Beat Icky Ekwonu for a sack due to superior hand usage. Swam past guard. Arm over, shake, can rip under. Good hand usage as DT beats the guard.
Sets the edge well. Has a compact and stout frame with a naturally low center of gravity. Holds the point of attack. Sheds TE blocks to get to the RB.
Sheds blocks quickly, can set the edge, then counter back inside to get back towards the RB.
Pad popper who attacks pull blockers.
Willing to do the dirty work to occupy blockers and free up his teammates.
Quickly reacts to the snap. Anticipated snap and burst through the A gap, forcing the OL to grab him for a holding penalty. Slippery and can explode through a gap at the line off of the snap.
Experienced working defensive games up front. Threatens upfield to set up twist, then good footwork to skip behind the other DT without losing forward momentum. Effective when the first DL on the twist.
Short, small, but quick DTs sometimes present problems for taller NFL linemen, because they are a change of pace and unconventional, like a knuckleball in baseball.
Too small. Obliterated by double team block on short yardage play, flew backwards like a Hollywood stuntman in an explosion. If he tries to slant, can get easily washed down the LOS. Knocked to ground as edge rusher trying to get around outside of OT. Guard rudely throws him to the ground on a screen pass.
Not enough length, so if he doesn't immediately win with a quick move, he can struggle to disengage from the bigger OL blocker once they get their hands on him. Looks like a high school game where a freshman is trying to pass rush against seniors.
Marginal athleticism for NFL level. No closing burst if he's unblocked to the QB, which allows the QB to be comfortable and not hurried into a bad throw on bootleg plays.
Not flexible or athletic enough to drop into space and offer pass coverage value.
Unable to convert speed to power. Doesn't have enough of a power move to threaten the OT with brute strength.
Small effective tackle radius.
Slides off of tackles due to short arms and lack of bulk.
Not tall enough to deflect passes at the LOS.
Older than average rookie.
Prior leg injury and infection might require medical evaluation.
Doesn't have a natural position. Not long or athletic enough to be a 3-4 OLB. Not big enough to be a 3-4 DE. Unless he bulks up, he's undersized to be a DT. He was a good college player, but where can he play on an NFL defense?
Limited ST value, because he doesn't run fast enough to perform LB type ST jobs and he's not big enough to block kicks on FG and punt defense units.
Keir Thomas is an easy underdog to root for in camp. He's an undersized player, but he's consistently doing the right thing on the field and making fundamentally sound plays.
I think the odds are stacked against Thomas making the final roster. Earnest Brown was only a PS player last season and what Thomas offers is largely redundant with the role Brown can play. Brown has more of an NFL ready frame with 34.5 inch arms and an 82 1/4 inch wingspan. He's 23 years old, so even though he was drafted a year ahead of Thomas he's a year younger than Thomas. So, unless Thomas can leapfrog Brown on the depth chart, the more likely scenario is Thomas is competing for a PS spot.
The PS might not be the worst spot for him. I'd like to see Thomas closer to 275 pounds, I think that might suit him better than trying to find a place playing at 255 pounds. So, if it takes some time for the coaches to decide where best to use him and what his proper playing weight should be, that's might help him in the long run instead of trying to force him into a position where he doesn't fit.
Keep an eye on Keir Thomas in the preseason. He's a good football player who has a shot at sticking around on an NFL roster.