ESPN and FoxSports.com both projected the 6-foot-4, 330-pounder to San Diego on the second day of the draft, but the Chargers shook up their draft board in trading up with Miami in the first round (No. 28 to No. 12) in order to pick up Fresno St. running back Ryan Mathews – a move that cost the team its second-round selection.
But when Thomas was still available on Saturday, San Diego swapped fifth-round picks with Philadelphia, moving from 28th to 15th, and sent the Eagles a fifth-round pick in 2011. Contract terms will be negotiated in the coming weeks.
"They had me going to San Diego earlier, but that's why I kept telling people that I didn't want to know what round I was going in because I didn't want to get caught up with it," Thomas said. "But it all worked out for the best. As long as I got drafted, I'm good. Everything else will fall into place."
The Chargers finished the '09 season with a 13-3 record, losing in the postseason to the New York Jets in the AFC Divisional Round.
"I'm going to a great organization," Thomas said. "We're about to win this thing, baby."
The Eagle Springs, N.C. native is expected to play sparingly his rookie season, primarily in running situations in the Chargers' 3-4 defensive set. He will be in contention to replace nose tackle Jamal Williams, who suffered a season-ending arm injury in the '09 season opener and then was released in March.
Thomas spent the weekend at home watching the draft with family and friends. As expected, when his name was called on Saturday, the house erupted in celebration.
"We were sitting around watching the draft and then they called my name out," Thomas said. "I cried like a baby. I'm not going to lie. Yeah, I said it and you can quote it."
The three-year starter at UNC spoke with defensive line coach John Blake shortly after his selection.
"He said, ‘Don't even worry about where you're going, just do what you do,'" Thomas said. "‘Just remember what I taught you and go with the flow. You've already been through it with the way we run our program. It's basically the same thing. You're used to it, so just go play.'"
Thomas told Inside Carolina last week that the draft process had been long and tedious, but while that four-month interview is over, the next step is just beginning. Rookie camp kicks off on May 6th.
"It doesn't stop here, though," Thomas said. "Just keep walking across the ground because May 6th is going to be here sooner than you think. It's time to go now."
Fellow defensive line starter E.J. Wilson was a surprising fourth-round pick, going 127th overall to Seattle. Seahawks general manager John Schneider compared Wilson to the Green Bay Packers' Cullen Jenkins.
Wilson and Thomas will join San Francisco's defensive tackle Kentwan Balmer as recent North Carolina additions to the Pacific time zone.
"We've got E.J. out at Seattle, Kentwan at San Francisco and I'm at San Diego, so we're going to turn the West Coast to the Tar Heels," Thomas said.