When the Buffalo Bills are put on the clock April 26 at pick No. 11, the temptation may be too overbearing. The 40 time. The vertical leap. The potential. It's tough to ignore. It's tough to avoid becoming prisoners of the moment.
Devin Thomas is Draft Dilemma 2008.
Thomas was a junior college transfer that only had only one standout season at Michigan State – merely 13 games of game film. But since his 1,260-yard, nine-touchdown season, Thomas has elevated from a borderline second-rounder to a possible top 15 pick. The Bills had a private workout with Thomas planned, and on Sirius NFL Radio, Thomas said he had good feelings about Buffalo.
He will almost certainly fall into Buffalo's laps at No. 11.
But how much stock do you put into Thomas' knockout workouts?
And is the 11th pick a reach for Thomas?
"A lot" and "yes." But don't discount Buffalo drafting Thomas, even if Malcolm Kelly and Limas Sweed are still on the board. The draft is all about preference and talent in the eye of the beholder. Thomas has obviously intrigued the Bills, and he may be the right risk at the right time.
The conventional wisdom on Buffalo's sub-six foot wide receiver corps is that the Bills must draft a big wideout to complement Lee Evans' speed. True. Oklahoma's Kelly and Texas' Sweed are both 6-foot-4, and possess the physical presence Buffalo lacks. But in seven combined seasons, neither eclipsed 1,000 yards in a year. Kelly or Sweed broke the 50-catch plateau only once – Thomas had 79 last season. Kelly and Sweed are raved for being huge targets and projected as solid No.2, complementary receivers. Thomas is criticized for running raw routes – a product of his JUCO background – but lauded as a potential superstar.
It's easy to see why. At the NFL Combine, Thomas earned himself a few extra million dollars by running a sizzling 4.4 in the 40. He then quieted more doubters at Michigan State's pro day on March 12. Thomas improved his vertical leap by five inches (28 to 33).
A textbook late bloomer Thomas is this year's Robert Meachem, Troy Williamson and Ashley Lelie. And that may be what precisely scares Buffalo away. In a previous article, we mentioned that 64 percent of the wide receivers taken in the top 15 from 1997-2005 turned out to be busts. The position is risky to begin with. A one-year wonder that has flown up the charts after great performances in basketball shorts is that much more impossible to predict.
Devin Thomas eludes a Michigan defender
If chief operating officer Russ Brandon and his roundtable muster up the intestinal fortitude to boldly take Thomas, they may get the last laugh. A rare blend of athleticism, speed and size is often a clichéd, regurgitated Kiperism this time of year, but in one season Thomas was just that.
On one play against Indiana, Thomas ran a bland, flattened out hook route inside the 20. He didn't cut hard to juke cornerback Tracy Porter (a projected fourth round pick) out of the play. The ball was thrown low and short, and Porter appeared to have an easy pick. But Thomas lunged back, got inside shoulder position on Porter and wrestled the ball away for the 16-yard reception. An NFL-type of catch.
Earlier in the 52-27 win, Thomas plucked a jump ball over Leslie Major's head for a 34-yard score. Despite Michigan State's dedicated ground attack with Jehuu Caulcrick and Javon Ringer, Thomas was a consistent threat. This game was a microcosm of that. Caulcrick and Ringer combined for 52 carries, but Thomas still caught 13 of quarterback Brian Hoyer's 20 completions for 148 yards and the touchdown. He was the lone receiving threat on a grind-it-out team, yet still dominated games.
Thomas has leapfrogged through the WR class in pre-draft hype fashion like the aforementioned letdown trio, but he best compares to Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe. Their physical makeups are identical, and both attack the football in traffic. Last season for the Chiefs, Bowe had 70 catches for 995 yards and five scores in a similar offense to what Buffalo may run this season. The Bills will look to grind opponents with long, sustained possessions behind Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson.
Trent Edwards needs a big-play target to make defenses pay for stacking eight men in the box. After being the backbreaker in the Spartans' run-first offense, it'd be a seamless adjustment for Thomas.
The logic seems far too simple.
The interest is high.
The potential is massive.
But the execution is an entirely different monster. A sure multi-million dollar investment could sorely backfire against the Bills if Thomas proves to be nothing more than a Williamson wannabe.
Draft Alert (1-low, 5-high):
2.5. Thomas is an easy prospect to fall for. As scouts try to decipher which wide receiver is truly the best in a muddled top 10, Thomas could easily wind up as the first one drafted. But the Bills' new front office team is a wisely conservative bunch. Through free agency, they've inked safe bets on defense, instead of risky boom-or-bust signings. They'd much rather draft what they know for sure over what could be. Nobody knows what Thomas could be.
Tyler Dunne is the Publisher of the Buffalo Football Report. Contact him at email@example.com