Carolina Panthers' Backyard Ballers: Clemson's Left Tackle Brandon Thomas

This is the first of a series of articles, titled Backyard Ballers, which will spotlight draft prospects from the Carolinas.  As a fan focused site, we too love our hometown boys.  Let's cheer those backyard ballers and follow them in their transition from Carolina colleges to the pros.  We wish they call could become successful Panthers one day, but we know that is unrealistic.  Their path may not go through Charlotte, but they will always be Carolina ballers to us!

Brandon Thomas, Clemson LT. 

We've all heard of Clemson University's Sammy Watkins of course. He's considered the top prospect in the entire nation at wide receiver and in a class replete with talent at the position. He and in-state rival Jadeveon Clowney get all the (non-quarterback) press, and frankly it's unusual for the state of South Carolina to have so much attention on multiple kids heading into the draft.

With so much attention on Watkins, Clemson's offensive guard Brandon Thomas has largely escaped the spotlight and that's exactly why I wanted to do a little digging to see what I could find out about him so I could relay that info to you, our loyal readers.

Also, since the Carolina Panthers are in need of an offensive lineman - or three - there remains a very good possibility that they could write down Thomas' name on a draft card in May, so let's take a look, shall we?

First, Thomas is a redshirt Senior coming out so he has developed in college as much as anyone, unlike the record number of underclassmen in the 2014 draft. With Tajh Boyd at QB and Watkins at WR, the Tigers from upstate South Carolina have been an offensive juggernaut during much of Thomas' tenure. The guys with the ball get the limelight, but we fans know everything starts and ends up front with the blocking.

Thomas played in the Senior Bowl a few months ago, but Notre Dame's Zack Martin was the guy who turned the most heads out of all the linemen, but again that's not so unusual. Martin's a tackle and faced off against the pass rushers and interior linemen like Thomas generally don't get much notice...unless they do something wrong. Guard and center are the most un-loved positions in all of football.

Martin and Thomas both were tackles in college, but Thomas may project better as a tackle in the NFL due to his physical stature. Thomas was a 2-time first team All-ACC left tackle, a three-year starter, and according to's scouting report, he held his own against South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney...without help.

That in itself is pretty eye-popping and worthy of attention.

Thomas was playing tackle late in the Senior Bowl while Martin had been moved inside to guard. Martin's T-Rex arms make him a question mark as to his NFL position and many think he will move inside to play guard at the next level...but what about Thomas?

Having seen his team play once or twice but not looking at a lot of tape on him and reading the scouting reports, he will likely be slotted as an NFL guard. He has the long arms (34 3/4") that scouts and coaches look for at the tackle position but struggles against speed-rushers. He has average size at 6'3" 317 lbs, but  those long arms combined with quick feet gives him a large "blocking radius" to protect the passer - but his limited range in space will keep him confined to the inside unless taking over for another tackle in an injury situation or something.

He's a good athlete with good power and pop with those arms, working inside-out and rarely lets defenders get inside his frame to out-leverage him as he also plays with a good, solid base and bends his knees well. He also has a powerful initial punch.

Sounds wonderful you say, right? Well, everyone has weaknesses and Thomas is no exception. While his pass-protection is pretty well-developed, his run-blocking needs refinement. He needs more coaching in hand placement and multiple techniques to use.

He's also not someone who is a "workout warrior" and doesn't have preparation skills for different opponents, so some question his motor, but some of that can be ingrained at the NFL level...especially with a very physical team like the Carolina Panthers. A large part of effective run-blocking is the mindset and Clemson was a passing team by and large, so he'll have to adjust his game and preparation at the next level.

He also can sometimes be fooled on delayed blitzes or when a rusher appears in an unexpected area. Thomas is "average" in space, despite having nice, quick feet, so I myself am theorizing it's a field-awareness issue that should improve with time, practice, and learning the intricacies of complex NFL defensive schemes. He has only average lateral movement ability, reflected in his struggling against speed-rushers on the outside, again, which is the biggest reason he projects as a guard.

Personally, I love versatile players like Thomas who can contribute at different positions when injuries inevitably hit and could help keep the chemistry intact without any drop-off in ability. Problems occur when linemen play out of position due to need, and Thomas would be a great asset especially down the road.

No, he isn't a first-round guy and possibly not even a second-rounder. If he's available in the third, however, that's where the organization might start taking a good, hard look at him as a guard to solidify the inside.

The problem is that Silatolu is the young incumbent left guard, barring another injury, and Thomas projects best at....left guard. I'm sure he could learn to play the right guard spot, but his run-blocking would have to improve dramatically.

It's fairly rare to have an incoming guard that's a better pass blocker than run blocker. Usually, it's the other way around.

While I feel Brandon Thomas could be a solid NFL guard one day, I don't see an All-Pro ceiling for him and his skill set, while nice, is a poor fit for the Panthers given the presence of Silatolu and Thomas' need for development and his average run-blocking.

Additionally, he's probably going to be a 4th-round pick but could be considered by Carolina as a value if available in the 5th or beyond for good depth with some upside, even if it's limited. Realistically, he'll have to fall a couple of rounds for the Panthers to really give him draft consideration, in my opinion.

Actually, reading about his play against Clowney in addition to Thomas' limitations with speed rushers, something doesn't add up. Is Thomas a player who can rise to the level of his competition or did Clowney not play well against him?

It seems to raise a lot of questions about Clowney that I didn't know existed before. Keep your eyes open, folks, and try to sponge up everything you'll hear about Clowney from here on out.

His situation just gets curiouser and curiouser as the layers of the onion peel back.

UPDATE 4/8/14 - Brandon Thomas tore his ACL in training and will miss any football action for 2014.

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