The Browns drafted Miami defensive end Chad Thomas because of his physical nature.
“He is a player when we talk about setting the edge or keeping contained in the run game, he can really put on a clinic tape of being able to do that at one of the end spots,” vice president of player personnel Andrew Berry said after the Browns took him with the No. 67 pick in the third round last month. “He is just a strong, long, physical guy that uses his hands well.”
Thomas certainly looks the part at 6-foot-5, 275 pounds.
“If you were to ask the heavens above to drop a defensive end out of the sky in terms of height, weight, speed, athleticism, hips, all that stuff, you’d be hard pressed finding a more naturally talented dude with the type of measurables that Chad Thomas has,” Miami director of player development Joel Rodriguez told The Chronicle-Telegram in a phone interview.
But he wasn’t always the force the Browns fell for. He struggled to maximize his physical tools during his first two years with the Hurricanes, his hometown team.
“It’s a testament to the kid, because that probably was a weakness or a knock on him prior to his last two years here, he wasn’t as physical as he should be for a kid that size and that talented,” Rodriguez said. “But he really bought into what the new coaching staff was teaching, which was a more physical brand of football and living up to the Hurricane standard of defenses of old.”
Toughness isn’t something that suddenly shows up when a player turns 20. And dominating right tackles and punishing running backs don’t happen with the flick of a switch.
Thomas always had the necessary traits, but they struggled to surface as he adjusted to big-time college football and dealt with the disruption of new defensive line coaches after his first two years.
“It was never a physical thing for me,” he told The Chronicle during rookie minicamp. “I like being physical. Probably too much thinking and not really letting it go.
“So once I really got it down pat and understood what my job was, I just handled business physically. It came out more.”
Rodriguez called him an “overthinker.”
“Chad’s a very, very intelligent young man,” Rodriguez said. “And he’s very literal as a learner. So I think what happens sometimes when you’re a very intelligent player is you have a hard time going 1,000 miles an hour, being as physical as you possibly can if you’re not 100 percent sure what you’re doing and how you’re supposed to do it.”
The statistics showed the increase in comfort. After 25 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack in his first two seasons, he totaled 78, 23.5 and 10 in his final two years as a full-time starter, including 41, 12.5 and 5.5 in 13 games as a senior.
The numbers are solid but they aren’t elite. That’s how a guy dropped from the heavens falls to the top of the third round.
“The biggest difference between Chad and a guy like Myles Garrett last year was the production,” Rodriguez said. “Chad was in on a lot of plays but didn’t necessarily have a ton of solo tackles or have a ton of solo sacks.
“If this kid is so big and strong and long and talented, why isn’t he more productive? That’s the question that Chad’s going to have to answer as he goes forward in his career.”
“My strength is my speed and my power setting the edge,” Thomas said at the scouting combine. “My weakness is probably working on my finishing. That’s something big.”
Thomas has turned the page on any unfulfilled potential at Miami. He plans to apply what he learned from the progress of his last two seasons and get off to a strong start with the Browns.
“I’ve got a lot more production in me,” he said. “I know I’m coming to work, so it’s not going to be just sitting back and just getting pushed around.”
Thomas says his true love is football, but he’s got an interesting hobby in which his talent is obvious. He’s known as Major Nine and produced a song for hip-hop artist Rick Ross. He can also play nine instruments.
“I guess I like loud music, heavy bass and all that, so just coming on the field and we play football, so you’ve got to hit, it just goes hand-in-hand,” he said. “Then, when I’m tired, I get rhythm in my head, that rhythm keeps me up, just makes sure I’m not mentally tired.”
Rodriguez said music was never a distraction during Thomas’ time with the Hurricanes but did admit his departure created a “huge hole” at DJ.
“You would never know this kid had this whole other life going on, based on his performance or his availability,” Rodriguez said.
Thomas wanted to go to Miami since he was a kid. He also promised his cousin Joshua they’d go there together. Joshua committed suicide and serves as further motivation for Thomas to fulfill his NFL dream.
The Browns are getting a good one on and off the field, according to Rodriguez.
“He’s a very charismatic young man without trying to be,” he said. “People naturally gravitate towards Chad.
“He’s not super loud, he’s not super rambunctious, he just has this quiet aura about him that people want to be around and want to get to know him a little better.”