It’s not really a surprise that Texas sophomore safety Earl Thomas declared Friday night for the NFL draft.
Thomas is coming off one of the best seasons for a Texas defensive back in school history in 2009. The redshirt sophomore had eight interceptions, which broke Noble Doss’ mark of seven interceptions that was set in 1940. Thomas ran two of them back for touchdowns to set another record.
If there’s such a thing as “The Natural” among defensive backs, it's Thomas. He isn’t overly big or physical (5-foot-10, 197 pounds) but he has the uncanny instincts to stick with any receiver. His skills definitely will translate well to the next level.
Thomas isn't as physically gifted as either Eric Berry of Tennessee or USC’s Taylor Mays. Both figure to be picked ahead of Thomas unless he has an off-the-charts workout for NFL scouts later this spring.
Thomas was a finalist for the Thorpe Award in 2009 and would have been the favorite for the award if he had remained for his junior season in 2010.
If he had stayed for another season and had another productive year, it’s not out of the question that Thomas could have developed into the greatest defensive back in Texas football history.
As it is, he’ll be in the conversation with players like Tarell Brown, Cedric and Michael Griffin, Michael Huff, Quentin Jammer, Aaron Ross and Nathan Vasher. All left Texas for a career as a starting defensive back in the NFL. Huff and Ross left with Thorpe awards in back-to-back seasons in 2005 and 2006.
With Thomas leaving, sophomore Nolan Brewster could move into the starting job when spring practice begins for the Longhorns late next month.
A more likely scenario might be to move Blake Gideon to the tight safety position to make room for game-breaking defensive back Christian Scott at Gideon’s current position at free safety.
Scott was giving Gideon a serious challenge in fall camp this year before he was academically suspended. His ferocious hits would provide an intimidating presence to the secondary that was missing this year.
But whoever takes over Thomas' spot will be attempting to fill a sizable void that makes Texas’ rebuilding job a little more daunting.