2023 NFL Draft

2023 NFL Draft Player Profiles: North Carolina State LB Drake 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, I’ll be profiling North Carolina State linebacker Drake Thomas.

#32 Drake Thomas (Senior) — 5112, 228 LBs.

East-West Shrine Bowl participant


Player Ht/Wt Hand Size Arm Length Wingspan
Drake Thomas 5112, 228 9 3/8″ 29 5/8″ 72 1/4″
40-Yard Dash 10-Yard Dash Short Shuttle 3-Cone
4.60 1.63 4.28 7.10
Broad Jump Vertical Bench Press
9’8″ 36.5″ 18

The Good

-Uber-productive linebacker with above-average diagnostic skills, especially against the run
-Very aggressive defender who is constantly around the football
-Consistent, effective blitzer with motor that runs hot to chase down plays
-Plays with a real chip on his shoulder and sets emotional tone defensively
-Flashed ability to slip blocks against run to tackle players near/behind line of scrimmage throughout career
-Showcased strong ball skills for the position

The Bad

-Undersized linebacker with maxed-out frame
-Lack of length noticeable when taking on blockers
-Shows inconsistency in pursuit angles, can take himself out of plays being overaggressive
-Labors a bit to change directions
-Very limited in coverage overall, is much more comfortable working downhill than dropping into space
-More high-effort producer than high-end skill sets


-Played in 47 career games at North Carolina State, starting 38
-Named First-team All-ACC performer in 2021; Second-team All-ACC performer in 2022
-Voted team captain in 2021 and 2022 for the Wolfpack
-Finished career with 293 tackles, 46.0 tackles for loss, 19.0 sacks, 13 passes defensed and four interceptions
-Turned down the likes of Alabama, Michigan, and Ivy League schools to attend NC State with his brother, Thayer, who is also draft eligible this year
-Earned the team’s Bill Cowher Award for top linebacker and the Mario Williams Award for Defensive MVP in 2021 as a junior
-Turned 23 years old on February 25

Tape Breakdown

Production at the collegiate level doesn’t always mean a player is going to be a success in the NFL, but it’s hard to overlook what North Carolina State linebacker Drake Thomas put up for the Wolfpack over four seasons.

In 47 career games (38 starts) Thomas recorded 293 tackles, 46.0 tackles for loss and 19.0 sacks as an off-ball linebacker. Pretty remarkable stuff, especially on paper.

The tape tells a slightly different story with Thomas though.

He’s a bit undersized and produced so much based on high effort and a motor that simply never stopped, rather than having any sort of eye-opening traits.

That said, he showed the ability to process very, very quickly, especially against the run.


He does a very good job here against Louisville last season reading the run quickly and getting to the line of scrimmage just after the snap. Once there, he trusts his eyes, which take him right to the football for the big TFL. The most intriguing thing about Thomas is his ability to diagnose working downhill against the run, trusting his eyes to take him to the football.

He’s very rarely fooled and is usually in the right position at the right time.


Thomas is an aggressive linebacker who really has few hesitations in his game. When he sees things, he clicks and closes in a hurry, rarely missing tackles.

Good stuff here against Wake Forest in 2022. He sees the lane open up between the tackles, allowing him to fire downhill like a heat-seeking missile for the TFL.

That’s what he brings to the table as a run defender.


While Thomas certainly has major questions about his size and length (just 29 5/8″ arms), he showed the ability to slip blocks throughout his North Carolina State career.

Here, in the home opener against UConn last season, Thomas did a great job of decreasing his play-side target to the blocker, slipping underneath the tight end’s block to make the stop at the line of scrimmage. Sometimes slipping a block in space can be a huge no-no, but Thomas played this very well and never gave up his gap integrity.


Despite being on the smaller side for the position, Thomas played with real force throughout his career. He’s going to strike you every chance he gets, and he’s going to let you know about it.

That chip on his shoulder is an absolute boulder by now, one that he embraces. He knows he’s small, but that’s not going to cause him to hesitate or think twice when striking a blocker right in the mouth.

Great rep here in 2021 against Louisville, absolutely running the blocker over on the zone-run play, knocking the lineman into the running back’s legs for the TFL. You don’t see that often.

Where Thomas will have the largest impact though is as a blitzer. The man is relentless, fighting tooth and nail to get to the quarterback.


He has a limited pass rush arsenal, relying mostly on his motor to make plays as a blitzer. He has flashed a very solid dip and rip move, and a swim move, much like he did here against Miami (FL) in 2021 for the sack.

His ability to rush the passer kept Thomas on the field for all three downs throughout his career at North Carolina State. That could be the case in the NFL, should he land in a situation in which he’s able to work his way into the starting lineup.


The production certainly speaks volumes for Thomas and does the off-field stuff that led to his being named a team captain for two straight years. He’s a hard worker, one who knows the playbook inside and out, knows what guys are supposed to be doing around him, and is constantly making plays in big spot.

He’s a menace around the line of scrimmage against the run and as a blitzer, a guy quarterbacks had to know where he was lined up on every snap when on the field.

However, the size concerns and lack of explosive long speed overall could cause major limitations in the NFL. Thomas has the makings of a high-end special-teams piece who could be a special-teams captain in the NFL for a long time. But projecting him to be anything more than that feels like a stretch. He reminds me a lot of Oklahoma’s Eric Striker, a guy who is good against the run, showed the ability to rush the passer and move around in college. Striker was ultimately too small and too slow to have a consistent role defensively in the NFL.

Projection: Late Day 3 (7th Round)

Depot Draft Grade: 6.4 End of Roster/Practice Squad

Games Watched: Furman (2021), at Miami (Fl.) (2021), Louisville (2021), at Wake Forest (2021), Syracuse (2021), UConn (2022), Wake Forest (2022), Virginia Tech (2022), Louisville (2022)

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