From now until the 2021 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to showcase as many prospects as possible and examine both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.
#1 Ambry Thomas/CB/Michigan/6’0”, 183 Lbs
-Sound press coverage defender that can squeeze receivers off of routes
-Good overall burst to close on throws in front of him
-Strong initial punch to disrupt receiver’s timing off the line of scrimmage
-Intriguing length and impressive leaping ability to make plays on the ball
-Possesses man and zone traits and could slide into slot at the next level
-Plenty of special teams experience and has kick return appeal
-Can be a bit overeager in his initial punch, leaving himself off balance and in recovery mode early
-Needs to develop more functional strength at the next level to make a full impact as a run defender
-Only one true year as a starter and was rarely tested in coverage
-Opted out of 2020 season and hasn’t played real football in over one calendar year
-Tends to lose feel for receiver when turning head back to QB
-Played in 39 career games with Michigan, starting 13 games
-Named Third Team All-Big Ten in 2019 by coaches, honorable mention by media
-Finished career with 54 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 4 interceptions, 9 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble and 5 fumble recoveries
-Added 39 career kick returns for 808 yards and 1 touchdown, a 99-yard return against Notre Dame in 2018
-Named Michigan’s Defensive Skill Player of the Year in 2019
When it comes to smaller corners that play bigger than their height and weight, few stand out more than Michigan’s Ambry Thomas.
Though Thomas opted out of the 2020 season and seems mostly forgotten about heading into the 2021 NFL Draft, Thomas has man and zone appeal and can play inside and outside at the next level, thanks to his length, physicality and overall speed.
With his length, Thomas loves to get his hands on guys early in routes, bump them off their target and disrupt timing, which often led to Thomas making plays down the field.
Here against Michigan State in 2019, Thomas gets his hands on the Spartans’ receiver early on, squeezing him to the sideline to disrupt timing and take away his runway on the go route.
As he squeezes him to the sideline, Thomas is able to stay in his hip pocket and remain connected while getting his head around, eventually making a play on the football for the interception.
Early on in the 2019 season against Middle Tennessee State, Thomas does a great job reading the QB while staying in the receiver’s hip pocket, driving on the throw for the pick.
His burst downhill is quite noticeable here, as is his length to stretch out and highpoint the football for the interception.
Though I do believe his overall football IQ is lacking from a defensive standpoint due to the limited experience, this rep against Notre Dame was quite impressive.
Thomas does a great job passing current Steeler Chase Claypool off inside, flipping his hips afterwards to get back out into the flat to take the running back for the short gain. He shows a good feel here for what the Fighting Irish were trying to do.
Against Illinois, Thomas again flashed his length, skying to bat throw away while in trail technique.
He has good overall body control to contort in the air and get his hands on this football late.
In the slot here against Indiana, Thomas again shows his ability to squeeze receivers to the boundary and use the chalk as another defender.
By squeezing the slot receiver to the boundary, Thomas is able to eliminate any chance of a completion from the Hoosiers’ QB.
Like I said earlier, he has some serious kick return appeal for the NFL. Nearly 40 career returns at Michigan should have him seeing the field in the NFL right away on special teams.
He showed good burst and overall contact balance on this return against Notre Dame in 2018, returning it 99 yards for the score.
Overall, while I do have some concerns about his ability to play downhill against the run with his functional strength, and his opting out of the 2020 season losing a key year of development, I think Thomas’ 2019 film was good enough to get him drafted early on Day 3 and hang on with a team as a developmental No. 4 corner with real special teams appeal.
Projection: Early Day 3
Games Watched: Middle Tennessee State (2019), Wisconsin (2019), Iowa (2019), Illinois (2019), Penn State (2019), Michigan State (2019), Notre Dame (2019), Ohio State (2019), Alabama (2019)