2023 NFL Draft

2023 NFL Draft Player Profiles: NC State WR Thayer Thomas

From now until the 2023 NFL Draft, we will scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top-10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents Today, we’ll be profiling NC State WR Thayer Thomas.

#5 Thayer Thomas, WR, NC State (Sr.) — 6000, 198

Pro Day


Player Ht/Wt Hand Size Arm Length Wingspan
Thayer Thomas 6002/198 9″ 30 1/8″ 73 1/2″
40-Yard Dash 10-Yard Dash Short Shuttle 3-Cone
4.57 1.63 4.03 6.93
Broad Jump Vertical Bench Press
10″0′ 37″ 15

The Good

— Not afraid to go over the middle and take hits
— Reliable pass catcher with only a 4.4% career drop rate, per PFF
— Tough player who’s not afraid to put his head down and fight for extra yards after the catch
— Shows the ability to sit down in holes in the zone and ease away from coverage
— Steps on defenders’ toes on breaks to maximize separation at top of the route
— Can find green grass during scramble drills
— Elite experience with 60 career games
— Gadget player with 4 touchdown passes in his career
— Praised by NC State Head Coach Dave Doeren for “above the one-percentile line when it comes to work ethic”

The Bad

— Limited catch radius with poor waist flexibility to make catches behind him
— Doesn’t have breakaway speed and will have NFL cornerbacks sitting on all of his underneath work
— Lacks suddenness at the top of routes and burst to sustain any sort of separation he creates
— Average play speed that isn’t going to scare any NFL defenders
— Minimal separation causes him to see a lot of contested catch situations
— Routes aren’t always as crisp and sharp as they should be due to playing high
— Not going to much of a YAC threat due to poor burst and creativity
— Benefited from a lot of manufactured touches in NC State offense
— Struggled to find yards for himself in catch-and-run tosses in the flat and wide-receiver screens
— Run blocking effort is lacking
— Turns 25 in May


— 215 catches, 2,484 receiving yards, 11.6 avg., and 24 touchdowns in 60 career games
— 70 career punt returns, 681 punt return yards, 9.7 avg., 1 punt return TD
— Finished second in receptions and receiving touchdowns in NC State history
— Played in Hula Bowl, and was called up to the East-West Shrine game
— Joined the team as a walk-on and earned a scholarship during the spring of 2018
— Only one of two walk-on players Head Coach Dave Doeren ever gave a scholarship to without playing a snap for the team (the other was J.J. Watt)
— Younger brother, Drake, was a linebacker for NC State and is also draft-eligible
— Father, Trevor, was an offensive guard at Marshall
— Was on NC State’s baseball team as an OF, started four games in 2019
— Drafted by Boston Red Sox in 2019 in the 33rd round
— Record holder for receptions in football, assists in basketball, and hits in baseball for his high school
— High school coaching staff included Torry Holt, Willie Parker, and Charles Johnson
— Did gymnastics as a kid
— Thayer is his father’s middle name, middle name is Rockne, after Knute Rockne
— Grew two inches from 2017 to 2018 while at NC State
— Only two offers out of HS were UNC Charlotte and Davidson for baseball
— Earned his degree in business administration in the summer of 2020

Tape Breakdown

After dominating the gridiron, hardwood, and baseball diamond at Heritage High School in North Carolina, Thayer Thomas found himself with offers to take his talents to the next level in only one sport: baseball. Despite the allure of a promising baseball career (that included being drafted by the Boston Red Sox in 2019), Thomas made a bold decision. Inspired by the high school football coaching staff that boasted NFL talent, including the likes of Torry Holt and former Pittsburgh Steelers DeWayne Washington, Willie Parker, and Charles Johnson, Thomas followed his heart and pursued football. He was offered a priority walk-on spot at NC State and embraced the opportunity.

Thomas impressed so much on the practice field during his redshirt freshman year that he earned a scholarship in the spring of 2018 before even taking a snap for the Wolfpack. From there he was able to put together a five-year career and claim to lofty spots on the school’s all-time receiving charts. He finished second all-time in receptions, fourth all-time in receiving yards, and second all-time in receiving touchdowns.

While it’s a great story that likely deserves its own article, let’s take a look at his tape and see what the former priority walk-on brings to the table.

Thomas’s game is defined by his toughness and ability to come down with catches in challenging situations, particularly when working in the middle of the field. Despite enduring punishing hits from safeties coming downhill, Thomas consistently maintains his focus and catches the football.

Even after six years in college, Thomas’ route running could still use some refinement. His lack of overall suddenness and burst in and out of breaks means he has to be on the absolute top of his game to create separation, but he does show some nice things on tape.

Below are two reps against Florida State in 2021. In both clips, he shows off nice rocker steps that get the defensive backs to freeze and jump outside before he breaks inside.

As I mentioned above, Thomas doesn’t have elite acceleration or burst to explode out of his breaks or eat up a defensive back’s cushion. If he does create separation out of his breaks, it’s often short-lived due to his average long speed.

Thomas often finds himself in contested-catch situations due to his limited ability to create consistent separation.

However, he has proven to be proficient in these situations. According to PFF, he successfully brought in over 50% of his contested targets, boasting a career contested-catch rate of 55%. Given his athletic profile, this will likely remain a crucial aspect of his game moving forward.

Thomas may not have all the physical tools, but he makes up for it with his smarts. He knows how to position himself in zones and has great spatial awareness to create separation from defenders, as shown in his play against Pitt.

Thomas’s football IQ also shines in scramble-drill situations, where he developed a strong chemistry with NC State quarterback Devin Leary. They had a knack for finding each other when Leary extended plays and got out of the pocket.

As an evaluator, I always search for a play that epitomizes a player’s style. While no player can be defined by a single play, there are moments that showcase their best qualities and what they bring to a team.

For Thomas, that play comes against Florida State. He’s running what I call a “void” route against a two-deep shell defense. If it were one-man deep, he would aim to cross the safety’s face and run toward the numbers. However, with the two-deep coverage, the “void” is between the hash marks. Thomas reads the situation, breaks upfield, and settles into the open gap. He secures the catch despite taking a big hit from one of the safeties.

The play doesn’t take a ton of athletic prowess. It does take the football IQ to identify coverage on the move and the toughness to reel the ball in when you know you’re about to take a hit.

Another area where Thomas has room for improvement is when defenders get hands-on with him. As a slot receiver, he didn’t face much press coverage, but he has shown vulnerability to being knocked off his route by defenders.

The most disappointing aspect of Thomas’ game came in the blocking department. He’s a scrappy player but didn’t show much interest or skill in this area.

Thomas also contributed to the Wolfpack as their starting punt returner for five consecutive years, showcasing his special-teams value. He maintained a career average of 9.7 yards per return, which is relatively good. His ability to secure the job for such a long period of time speaks to his reliability and sure hands back deep.

However, I found this play of him running down a punt even more interesting. He wasn’t NC State’s normal gunner, but due to field position it kept him out there. He was able to make this spectacular play catching the punt and flipping it back before heading into the end zone.

It’s worth mentioning that Thomas was also utilized as a gadget player by NC State, likely due to his baseball background. He attempted 14 passes, completing 7 of them, for 194 yards, 4 touchdowns, and no interceptions in his career.

While some of his incomplete passes were risky and probably should have resulted in interceptions, the ability is something to note.


Thayer Thomas has had an impressive career as a wide receiver for NC State, overcoming challenges and making a name for himself on the field. His toughness, reliability as a pass catcher, and willingness to go over the middle and take hits are some of his strengths. Despite some limitations in terms of his catch radius, breakaway speed, and overall burst, Thomas has shown the ability to make plays and contribute to his team’s success. His experience, versatility as a gadget player, and praise from his head coach for his work ethic are also notable qualities. With continued development and refinement of his skills, Thomas has the potential to make an impact in the NFL.

Thomas’ draft projection is currently leaning toward him going undrafted. That is not surprising considering his lack of a breakout season and limited athletic profile. However, his strong work ethic and special-teams ability could land him a spot on a practice squad in September.

If the Steelers address the wide receiver position with their one of their two seventh-round picks, Thomas is a name to watch. The team reportedly had a dinner with Thomas before his Pro Day. With his high school staff having heavy Pittsburgh ties, the Steelers should know more than enough about Thomas and the type of man he is. He’d be worth a late-round flier or a UDFA look.

Projection: UDFA

Depot Draft Grade: 6.1  – End of Roster/ Practice Squad (7th round)

Games Watched: Virginia Tech (2022), Clemson (2022), Clemson (2021), Florida State (2020), Pitt (2020)

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