Raise your hand if you saw this commitment coming. Now put your hand down, you liar.
Nebraska got a pleasant surprise on Aug. 8, as Miami, Fla., defensive end Clevan “Guy” Thomas verbally committed to the Huskers. Thomas, the younger brother of Florida State outside linebacker Matthew Thomas, is coming off a stellar junior season in which he tallied 54 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss and 14 sacks while leading Columbus High school to a 13-2 record and the Florida Class 8A state semifinals. Thomas’s commitment gives John Parrella his third defensive line commitment in the 2017 class, joining Deontre Thomas and Robert Porcher IV.
Who Else Was Interested
When you are a defensive end that can run like Thomas can, you are bound to get a lot of attention on the recruiting trail. Thomas committed to Nebraska with 27 FBS offers to his name, including tenders from college football heavyweights such as Alabama, Florida State, LSU and USC. Thomas’s commitment shocked many Husker fans, myself included, as the talented rush end had not visited Nebraska prior to committing to the Huskers. The conventional wisdom put the money on Thomas committing to one of the four schools he camped at over the summer, as Miami, Georgia, Auburn and especially Florida State appeared to be the teams to beat. Luckily for Nebraska fans, Parrella worked his magic and earned the trust of Thomas, leading to Nebraska stealing Thomas out of SEC country.
Thomas measures in at 6-3 and 205 pounds. The first thing that stands out when looking at Thomas is just how long and lean he is, Thomas is literally all arms and legs at this point and has ample room to fill out his frame with muscle. I don’t believe Thomas will end up getting as big as fellow defensive end commit Robert Porcher, but I think Thomas should be able to get up to 245-250 pounds by the time he is filled out. My main concern now is whether Thomas can add weight prior to enrolling at Nebraska. If Thomas can get up to 225-230 pounds, he should be able to compete for early playing time, but if he comes in at 210 pounds, I think he would need to redshirt in order to add necessary weight to play in the Big Ten.
1. His speed. To put it bluntly, Nebraska doesn’t have any defensive linemen on their current roster that can run like Thomas can. Thomas is an effortless runner with long strides that cover ground quickly and allow him to have tremendous pursuit speed as a pass rusher. Thomas’ speed also adds to his versatility, as he could be used in a hybrid LB/DE role that allows him to pick his spots and pursue the quarterback, similar to how Nebraska used Randy Gregory in 2013. Nebraska has been searching for a truly dynamic outside rush threat since Randy Gregory moved on to the NFL, and Thomas has the speed to become that.
2. His length. As I previously stated, Thomas is all arms and legs at this point. Thomas makes tremendous use of his long arms as he is violent with his hands and does a good job of getting his arms extended and keeping the offensive linemen out of his chest. This arm length allows Thomas to anchor himself pretty well in the run game despite his weight disadvantage, while making him a dynamic pass rusher when he can pin his ears back and go.
3. His on-field mentality. Thomas is a mean little sucker out on the football field and he plays with a noticeable chip on his shoulder. Everything Thomas does on the football field is violent, he plays with violent hands, he pursues the ball carrier with bad intentions and when he hits you, you remember it. The best way to explain it is that Thomas plays with that edge that all great defensive linemen share, as he goes out each play looking to physically dominate the man across from him, and then let that guy know he got dominated on the way back to the huddle.
4. His potential. Probably the scariest thing about Thomas is the fact that he holds 27 FBS offers and is considered one of the best defensive linemen in Florida even though he isn’t fully grown yet. Thomas can hold at least 25 more pounds on his frame, meaning that he is only going to get stronger and more explosive as he matures. Thomas is only scratching the surface of his potential, and if he can stay on the straight and narrow, he could become pretty special.
1. His size. This is my only real concern at this point with Thomas, as he checks every other box when it comes to pass rushers. Thomas just needs to get bigger before he can be counted on to contribute in the Big Ten. I’d like to see Thomas add at least 20 pounds to his frame to make him physically ready to compete in the Big Ten while also making him a three-down defensive linemen instead of a third-down pass rush specialist. Thomas certainly has the frame to add the weight, now he just needs to get to the training table and start chowing down on some steaks.
2. His first step off the line of scrimmage. Thomas has tremendous speed once he gets going, but his first step off the line of scrimmage isn’t consistent enough for my liking quite yet. At times, Thomas explodes low out of his snap and leaves the offensive linemen in the dust, but other times he is a half-step slow and is forced to play a step behind the rest of the defensive line. This isn’t a huge concern for me, Thomas has shown tremendous burst off the line, now he just needs to show it on every play.
And just like that, Parrella has taken the lead on recruiter-of-the-year honors for the Nebraska coaching staff. This commitment came as a genuine shock to me; I know Thomas had expressed interest in Nebraska in prior interviews and had been complimentary about Coach Parrella, but I never thought that a 4-star defensive end out of the heart of SEC/ACC recruiting country would commit to Nebraska sight unseen. Thomas gives Nebraska a major upgrade in speed off the edge as well as a player with the length and versatility to be used in many creative ways. As long as Thomas arrives in Lincoln with a bit more weight on his frame, I see no reason why he can’t immediately challenge for playing time as a rotational pass rusher. This was a tremendous recruiting win for Nebraska and most notably Parrella, who continues to prove that Mike Riley made the right choice in taking a chance on him as Nebraska’s defensive line coach.
Now the next step will be for Parrella to get Thomas on campus for an official visit in order to truly seal the deal. Until that visit happens, I will remain wary about schools like Auburn, Georgia and Florida State making a late run at him.
College Comparison: TCU defensive end Josh Carraway
Pro Comparison: Longer version of Seattle Seahawks/Oakland Raiders DE/OLB Bruce Irvin