The 2018 NFL Draft has come, seen, and concurred. This year's annual celebration of welcoming the league's newest stars had its fair share of shock and twists.
To the surprise of many, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield was picked first overall by the Cleveland Browns. We saw the New Orleans Saints trade up several spots for Marcus Davenport; a player who most saw as a developmental pass rusher.
In a class where there was no clear-cut number one wide receiver, none were drafted until pick 25 where the Carolina Panthers selected D.J. Moore of Maryland. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson fell all the way to pick No. 32, where he came off the board to the Baltimore Ravens (after they traded back into the first round to pick the electrifying signal caller).
Even the third round selection of Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph by the Steelers may not have been a bigger surprise to their fans than the team not addressing what appeared to be their biggest draft need: the inside linebacker position.
Or did they?
Toward the end of the draft, Pittsburgh began working the undrafted free agent market, adding a player who got the attention of some verified twitter heads. Those same talking heads started making claims to suggest that this particular player could actually make the Steelers 53-man roster, given the current linebacker depth.
That player is one I'd like all of you to meet: Florida State's own inside linebacker, Matthew Thomas.
Thomas put himself on the map beginning in high school where ESPN had him ranked 6th overall in the ESPN 150, which is a list of the best 150 high school football players in the country. (He was ranked as the 4th best in the state of Florida.) He was considered a 5-star recruit and had his pick of over 20 schools that wanted him in 2013 before he eventually decided on Florida State.
Matthew Thomas wasted little time making a name for himself in college, seeing playing time almost instantly as a freshman in 2013. The young bull appeared in four games for the Noles, before hurting his shoulder. That injury would require surgery, thus ending his season early with a medical redshirt.
It was during that span of time when Thomas failed a drug test while at school and was suspended for the first six games of the 2014 campaign. Playing in just seven games, Thomas didn't exactly light the world on fire during the 2014 season. However, it was still a time in his life that holds great significance.
In January 2015, he would lose his mother to lung disease. After losing his mother, Thomas would be declared academically ineligible for the 2015 season. I'm not trying to make excuses for the young man, but in this case, I have no problem doing so. There's no public record I could find of how close Thomas and his mother were, but it's not out of this world to assume she was very important to him, as most moms are.
Fast forward to 2016 and Matthew Thomas finds himself starting in the middle of the Florida State defense. This was when Thomas truly came on as a possible NFL prospect, leading the Noles in tackles with 77, with 11 of those for a loss. The linebacker would continue this trajectory through the 2017 season as well, where he once again led FSU in tackles with 85, with 10 for a loss.
After leading FSU in tackles for two years running, Thomas scored himself an invite to the annual NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, where he put on an absolute show.
Thomas put up the best "SPARQ" (Speed, power, agility, reaction, and quickness) score of ANY linebacker at the combine with a total score of 148.6. Experts gather that number by putting all the player's workout numbers together. Thomas' 4.58 forty yard dash, 10"11 broad jump, and his freakish 41.5-inch vertical jump helped boost his final grade.
If there's one thing the Steelers have shown us in recent years' past, it's that they value athleticism above anything else. At 6"3 230 lbs. putting up those numbers, this guy fits their bill.
The off-field issues appear to (hopefully) be in the rearview mirror for Thomas, but he still, by no means, is a finished product. He seems to struggle with consistency and awareness. At times, Thomas will make plays that make you step back and go "wow". (A majority of his tackles for loss are like this.) At other times, he appears to either lose interest on the field, or he just forgets his assignments (mental processing). The Steelers and their staff hope to correct this fixable problem.
In my opinion, the 23-year-old has already faced plenty of adversity in his life and has shown his desire to remain on the field, no matter what it takes.
But questions about his love for the game and commitment have surfaced during the pre-draft process. I know little to nothing about Matthew Thomas as a person, so I don't want to dive too deep into speculating about those question and answer sessions.
The Steelers didn't address the linebacker position throughout the 2018 draft, but maybe they had this kid in mind the entire time. Matthew Thomas was an official draft visit for the Steelers back on April 17th, along with eventual 5th round pick Marcus Allen. Coincidentally, Allen is projected to a type of safety/linebacker hybrid, but other than he and Matthew Thomas, the Steelers made no other additions to the linebacker room outside of veteran Jon Bostic earlier this offseason.
I don't think it's crazy to suggest that the athletic freak type whom the Steelers often covet, Matthew Thomas, makes the final 53-man roster. Especially when you consider his only competition is journeyman, L.J. Fort, and 3rd-year pro (and special teams ace) Tyler Matakevich.
At the very least, Thomas gives us all another name to look out for in the upcoming weeks of rookie mini-camp!