The New York Jets picked up three UDFA defensive linemen in free agency. Competition to make it onto the roster in one of the deepest positional groups on the team will be tough. Let’s take a look at the chances of Michigan State’s Lawrence Thomas…
- Name: Lawrence Thomas
- School: Michigan State
- Position: Defensive End
- Height: 6’3″
- Weight: 286lbs
Lawrence Thomas was one of the top 30 high school recruits in the country when he signed to Michigan State as a linebacker in 2011. After being red-shirted as a freshman, he made 47 appearances for the Spartans at defensive end, full back and nose tackle, switching between positions depending on the team’s roster. He sat out part of 2013 with a back injury, but has since remained healthy, starting all subsequent games; as nose tackle in his junior year and returning to defensive end in his senior year. 2015 was Thomas’ most productive year where he recorded 38 tackles including 5 for loss, 6 pass break ups and 3 sacks (equaling his 2014 sack total). He was voted Big Ten All-Conference honorable mention in his senior year.
With high hopes of joining the long list of Spartans to be drafted into the NFL, Thomas was projected a late rounder at best. Optimistic Michigan State analysts predicted him to be snatched in the 5th or 6th round however NFL.com had him going in the seventh round or being signed as an UDFA due to his rawness.
Thomas is described an outstanding athlete for his size with a fluidity which alludes to his past life as a running back. At the NFL Combine he displayed a 35 inch vertical, which tied him for fourth among defensive linemen and he clocked a decent sub five second forty. Thomas certainly has the frame of an NFL defensive lineman, with good arm length (33 1/4″) and hand size (10 1/8″). He can add weight to play as a tackle if needed. He has a consistent motor and is able to tie up blockers to keep the linebackers flowing.
Having bounced around positions, Thomas’ defensive end skill set is still very much in the developmental stage. He struggles with the pass rush, showing little hand technique and seeming to have no ‘plan’ when it comes to rushing the passer. His overall production is low although this may be partly down to his limited experience at the position. He has a slow burst off the line and even with 24 reps on the bench press at the Combine, Thomas didn’t consistently display the strength normally expected from a 280+ pound lineman.
Spartan’s coach Mark Dantonio was a big fan of Thomas’ athleticism and drive, hence the changes of position which allowed him to remain on the field at Michigan State. However this also speaks to the fact he is at best a raw talent who hasn’t truly found his niche, something he has in common with a number of other UDFAs taken on by Mike Maccagnan. His size means he would fit into the Jets’ 3-4 system but to make the roster in this positional group, with his limited experience, will be tough. His versatility could be beneficial but he needs to find the right positional fit to enable him to develop his game to an NFL level. We may see him land on the practice squad, marked for the future.
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