In the days leading up to the NFL draft, ESPNBoston.com will identify players who project as solid fits for the Patriots:
Player: Phillip Thomas
Listed height/weight: 5-foot-10, 198 pounds
Scouts Inc. rank: 7th
Draft projection: Middle rounds
Why he’s on our list: Better safety play is high on the team’s wish list for 2012 as there seemingly has been a heavy pre-draft focus on the position. Thomas, who visited Gillette Stadium earlier this month, is viewed as more of a free-safety type, which could be a nice complement to Patrick Chung. Entering the draft after his junior season, he was suspended for the final two games of the 2011 season for violating athletic department policy, so the Patriots would have to be comfortable with him off the field.
Recommended link: The energy that Thomas brought to the field, and growing up in a tough area of Miami, is spotlighted by Nolan Weidner of the Syracuse Post-Standard (link here).
Key stat: Led Syracuse with six interceptions in 2011.
Workout stat: Totaled only 14 reps on the 225-pound bench press, the fewest of any safety prospect at the combine.
Steve Muench of Scouts Inc.: "Thomas doesn’t have as much upside as some other safety prospects. At 5-foot-10 5/8 and 198 pounds, he is on the shorter and lighter side plus his top-end speed is below average. He ran a 4.74 40-yard dash at the combine and reportedly failed to improve on that time at his Pro Day. There are also character concerns. Syracuse suspended the junior for a year in November. The suspension was a result of an unspecified violation of one of the athletic department’s policies. On the other hand, he is a better football player than athlete, which is why he still projects as a late third-round pick. He masks his average range with instincts/positioning. Though he isn’t a center fielder type, he’s capable of covering a deep half. His top-end speed is obviously a concern when it comes to his ability to match up in man coverage but he is quick and fluid enough to stay with most slot receivers underneath. In addition, he has the big mitts (10.4-inch hands) to come down with the ball when he gets a chance to make a play. Finally, he’s a reliable open-field tackler that can help out in run support, limit production after the catch and contribute on cover teams."