As Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman talked about the importance of a consistent route-runner at the receiver position last week, they were also meeting with a receiver prospect who says his route-running will stand out.
“My route-running ability, my competitiveness, my hands,” Thomas said when asked what would stand out about his play.
Sounds like something the Vikings would be interested in.
“I think a receiver comes in, if he understands the biggest thing for receivers is does the quarterback trust him? Is he going to be in the right place and on time?” Zimmer said. “So he’s not running a 7 route and the guy is throwing a 9 route, or whatever. The trust for a quarterback, being in the right place, is huge.”
Thomas redshirted after one season at Ohio State, then returned to action to post solid numbers. In 2014, he was the Buckeyes’ leading receiver with 54 receptions for 799 yards and nine touchdowns, and last year was similar – 56 catches for 781 yards and nine touchdowns.
His route-running is considered a forte.
“Routes are routes – get out of your breaks as fast as you can and create separation,” he said. “I feel like I’ve got that; I feel like I showed that on my routes.”
Zimmer said the development of a receiver is not only learning how to run crisp routes but also understanding when to change the route based off the defense.
“Understanding the system and all the different complexities with it (is important). ‘OK, I got a rolled up corner, now I’m running a fade. Or it’s a post and I’m running it regardless of the coverage,’” Zimmer said. “So trying to figure out the different coverages in the NFL and those things. And against bump and run, because you get a lot more of that now than you do in college.”
All of that said, Zimmer believes the old adage about receivers needing three years to reach their potential in the NFL is just that – old.
Thomas believes the competition among the Ohio State Buckeyes, who had 14 players at the NFL Scouting Combine, also helped develop his game, despite being a starter for only two years.
“I was running against a tremendous defense every day in practice and my coaches, I think they’re going to help me transition to the next level,” he said.
NFL teams are allowed up to 60 formal, 15-minute interviews at the Combine and the Vikings often focus on underclassmen, which Thomas is. But after meeting with Josh Doctson and Thomas, it’s clear receivers that are expected to go in the first two rounds are part of the Vikings’ extensive research.