Bandit / Spur
Ideal Scholarship Roster Number: 7-8
Potential Returning Number (in 2017): 7 (James Johnson, Marcus Ball, Das Tautalatasi, Tyler Whiley, J'Marcus Rhodes, Deion Guignard, Chad Adams)
Likely Returning Number: 6-7
Remaining Ideal Number: 0
Arizona State coaches are very comfortable moving players around defensively, so making position projections can a real challenge. We group Spur and Bandit prospects together because they often overlap, as many players who have played one have also played at the other. Similarly we group cornerbacks and field-side safeties together. But there are times that a Spur can also play another linebacker position -- usually but not always WILL -- and a Bandit can play the field-side safety. Some players in particular have terrific scheme versatility. As a result, position projections should be viewed accordingly.
The Sun Devils have a healthy number of Bandit/Spur type players on the roster, but most have been revealed to be reserve-types. So while the Bandit/Spur positions weren't as in dire need as field safety and cornerback from a recruiting standpoint, it still required a clear replenishment of talent. ASU accomplished that in spades in this class, and it started with the commitment of Ty Thomas out of Lubbock, Texas, in June of last year.
At 5-foot-11 and 192 pounds -- as measured at the Nike Opening Dallas Regional last March -- Thomas' primary position is likely to be Bandit but he also could possibly play field safety. He's powerful with above average overall athleticism for his size at the position, and this shows up on film. Thomas had the 11th best Nike + Football Rating (formerly known as SPARQ, an acronym for Speed, Power, Agility, Reaction Time and Quickness) rating among 296 participants at The Opening regional he attended and No. 1 among safeties at 113.43. He ran a good electronic 4.72 40-yard dash, had a solid 4.32 second short shuttle, a great 36.8 inch vertical jump and 43.0 power ball toss, which is elite.
Thomas' Nike + Football Rating score was among the Top-25 defensive backs nationally last year (15,000-plus participants).
Thomas said he squats around 450 pounds and has a 300-plus pound benchpress and benefited from growing up in gyms owned and managed by family members, and in a family with professional caliber athletes. His father is former Texas Tech safety Bart Thomas and his uncle is former eight-time NFL Pro Bowl linebacker Zach Thomas. Five years ago Bart Thomas reportedly set an American record for the pentathlon among 40-plus year-olds.
The explosiveness and power demonstrated by Thomas in testing and the weight room show up clearly on film and are enhanced by his on-field disposition as a safety. Thomas is extremely fundamentally sound closing down to the football and stopping the play in front of him. He can really put his foot in the ground and re-direct with violence transitioning from backpedal to pursuit. He mirrors the ball well at depth and displays impressive pursuit angles. Running toward the boundary he has explosive closing burst to the ball, and remains well balanced ahead of the tackle even at speed.
As a tackler Thomas also earns high marks for his form and overall approach. He plays low and tracks to the hip with leverage, makes diving, extended Hawk rolls tackles that players rarely step out of. He will drive his feet while running through the midline of ball carriers with a lowered leading shoulder and arms wrapping in fundamental fashion.
For being as aggressive as he is, Thomas doesn't overrun or come in wildly on too many plays. He's much more advanced from a skill standpoint in these areas than the typical high school defensive back, even those with the athleticism to play Division I football. A lot of players, even at the Power-5 level, are very early in their tackling skill development when they arrive in college but that will not be the case with Thomas.
Thomas also has very good vision and spatial awareness on the field. This shows up with how well he avoids or gets free of traffic in pursuit to the ball, and also when he's in zone coverage with his eyes in the backfield. He takes advantage of this with plus-ball skills, often stepping in front of receivers he's cut off with his anticipation and ability to change directions.
All of these attributes make Thomas a great fit for the Bandit safety position at ASU. It's a role that requires a lot of aggressive run stopping into the boundary and some robber instincts in zone coverage. Thomas said ASU coaches told him he reminds them of Jordan Simone, who started two seasons at Bandit for the Sun Devils recently and was among the Pac-12's leading tacklers. Thomas does have some clear similarities in size, stature and disposition to Simone -- an incredibly high intangibles player who maximized his physical gifts -- and their strengths and weaknesses will probably be pretty similar. But Thomas is a more athletic player at the same stage of his development, to be sure.
Thomas has a very high floor as a college football player. He comes from great football bloodlines, is a ferocious competitor, was very productive as a high school junior with more than 100 tackles to lead his team, and is strong and athletic for the position. He's graduated early and is already enrolled at ASU. He professes a strong love for film and wants to be the most prepared player on the defense. He says all the right things and has put himself in position to be successful through what is undoubtedly a tremendous commitment to self-improvement.
How high is his ceiling and what are the real questions about his game?
The biggest limitations with ASU's Bandit players including former standouts Simone and Alden Darby before him have tended to be man coverage skills, and that's probably going to be same with Thomas. ASU is such an attacking, blitz-heavy scheme that it requires its safeties to have pretty decent man coverage skills and enough athleticism for the role in order to be true full service players at the highest level. This is especially true at the field side safety position where there is even more space to cover and more man coverage assignments, but it's still important on the boundary side, where opponents have schemed to generate one-on-ones against Simone and Darby in the past.
Also, how well will Thomas hold up physically with how physical and aggressive he is playing in the box for his size? He's very well put together but not big-framed and that makes long-term durability a legitimate uncertainty.
Some of these things -- size, coverage skills and versatility for the position -- probably won't become too much of an issue though until Thomas is being evaluated for the NFL level. These things lower his ceiling somewhat there unless he can really develop enhanced man coverage skills. But for ASU's purposes, this is a guy who combines very good tools with great intangibles, and should wind up a solid starter at minimum, unless the Sun Devils have an absolute star player in front of him. Will he be like a Jordan Simone, like an Alden Darby, or like former ASU star safety and first-round NFL draft pick Adam Archuleta? Only time will tell.