The Pittsburgh Steelers immediately came to terms with 13 undrafted free agents at the conclusion of the 2018 NFL Draft and the most notable player on that list has to be former Florida State inside linebacker Mathew Thomas and especially being as the team failed to address that particular position with any of their seven selections over the course of the annual three day event.
Thomas, who measured in at this year’s scouting combine at 6026, 232-pounds, was named Monday by NFL Media senior analyst Gil Brandt as one of the top-five linebackers to go undrafted this year behind only Skai Moore, Mike McCray, and Frank Ginda.
While in Indianapolis participating in this year’s scouting combine, Thomas registered an amazing pSPARQ score of 148.6 thanks primarily to him running his 40-yard-dash in 4.58-seconds and logging vertical and broad jumps of 41.5-inches and 10’11”, respectively. If that’s not enough, Thomas posted a short shuttle time of 4.28-seconds and a three-cone time of 6.85-seconds.
Thomas, who the Steelers had in for a pre-draft visit during the month of April, led the FSU defense in tackles his junior and senior seasons, his only two as a starter. That was a 162 total tackles during those two seasons in addition to an interception, a forced fumble and four passes defensed.
The former FSU linebacker now enters the NFL with a few red flags surrounding him, however. For starters, Thomas needed two separate shoulder surgeries while at Florida State. Additionally, he was suspended for the first half of 2014 for failing a drug test before the BCS Championship game against Auburn at the end of 2013. If that’s not enough, Thomas never played a single down for Florida State in 2015 due to him losing his academic eligibility.
At the combine, Thomas admitted that teams he had interviewed with asked him quite a bit about the previous issues he had had off the field at Florida State.
“They were asking more off the field stuff.” Thomas said, according to Wayne E. McGahee III of the Tallahassee Democrat. “If they were to draft me would they be able to trust me and stuff like that. I told them what it is. I told them that their worries weren’t going to be a problem no more and that it’s not what it seems.
“A lot of teams said they were happy after they talked to me because they heard so much from outside sources. It was good talking to a lot of scouts and explaining my story.”
Because of his freshman medical redshirt season, in addition to him missing the entire 2015 season, Thomas now enters the NFL with his 23rd birthday now looming. While a tad older for a rookie, keep in mind that the Baltimore Ravens drafted former South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst a few days ago in the first-round and he’ll turn 25 years of age in August.
“He can run in space, closes, he’s so athletic, tremendous space player,” now former Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher said of Thomas way back in 2014, according to Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel. “He can rush off the edge, he can blitz in the middle or play middle backer, so he brings a lot.”
Despite him probably receiving a lot of free agent contract offers from several NFL teams after the 2018 NFL Draft, it’s probably not surprising that Thomas chose to sign with the Steelers. After all, the Steelers probably present him the best opportunity to make a 53-man roster this year and especially since the team failed to draft an inside linebacker this year like most everyone expected they would.
If Thomas can stay healthy and out of trouble moving forward, he figures to have a legitimate shot at a Steelers roster spot later in the summer and especially if he can prove to have special teams value to boot. In closing, make sure you circle Thomas’ name and number on this year’s training camp roster, assuming he’s one of the 90 players that shows up in late July at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe for the team’s 2018 training camp.
“They’d be getting a good linebacker,” Thomas said at the combine about the team that he ultimately lands with. “A head-hunter linebacker. I had a conversation with some scouts that when I was at FSU everything wasn’t all shiny. I didn’t play up to my ability. I’m looking forward to being able to do that in the NFL. A lot of outside factors played into that. I know my best football is ahead of me. I’m a different player when I’m playing with passion.”
Thomas certainly better play with passion as a member of the Steelers if he wants to stick around past the final round of roster cuts in early September.