As you've probably heard by now, the University of Georgia picked up a commitment this weekend from Frostproof (Florida) tailback Carlton Thomas. Thomas chose the Bulldogs over offers from Auburn, Clemson, Iowa, Notre Dame and West Virginia.
Thomas is, according to varying reports, between 5'6 and 5'8 and around 175 pounds. He's not Herschel Walker, in other words. He is however one of the more impressive backs I've seen on film recently, as you can see in this highlight collection on Youtube and the variety of highlights on his Rivals profile page.
First, a disclosure. I am not a big fan of so-called "all purpose" backs (that is, small shifty tailbacks in the Tyson Browning mold). While the very best of them can be unstoppable (damn you Steve Slaton!!!) they are often a liability in short yardage and blocking situations.
But Carlton Thomas may be the antidote to my general cynicism for minibacks. The quality which is most apparent from his highlights is uncanny vision. If you watch closely, you'll see that he's not that much faster than his competition. He outruns some people, but is not always the fastest guy on the field. But what allows Thomas to break free on long touchdown runs is his Playstation-like ability to pick holes as if he's seeing the field on a television screen, not from the midst of the chaos. It's truly freaky to watch.
I also like the fact that Thomas uses his hands and arms to break free of tacklers. This is an underused skill among high school backs, many of whom have a basic stiff arm, and otherwise just try to run around people. But Thomas's "arm sweep" as the move is sometimes called really helps him break arm tackles.
He also has an incredibly quick burst through the hole. Thomas may not be a 100 meter champion, but if the 10 meters was an Olympic event, he might be in the running for the gold. The kid gets through the hole as fast as any back you'll ever see, and is often on top of defensive backs before they even seem to realize it. He also uses amazing footwork and exceptional cutback ability to find holes that other backs just might not get to.
The highlights don't show his blocking ability, so the jury is still out in that regard. One has to imagine that at 5'7 and 175 pounds, he's probably not going to flatten stampeding strongside ends and middle linebackers. And while he does catch a couple of balls on the highlights, it's not really enough to tell how good his hands are. So, the poor grades with this guy are really just incompletes. While it's impossible to accurately predict these things, Carlton Thomas looks like the kind of guy who could be hard to keep off the field early. He's just a spark plug of a back who is a threat to go all the way on every play. But he may need a year or two to physically mature to the rigors of regular backfield work in the SEC.
Nominally, Georgia already has commitments from two tailbacks for the class of 2008: Richard Samuel and Marcus Dowtin. However, both were ultimately recruited to play linebacker. With the forthcoming graduation of Kregg Lumpkin, Thomas Brown and Jason Johnson, the class of 2008 appeared to be a critical year for tailback recruiting. However, the emergence of freshman walk-on Kalvin Daniels may have taken some of the pressure off. Nevertheless, Thomas was one of our top prospects at a position of need. The 'Dawgs are still actively recruiting Heard County tailback Dontavius Jackson. But even if Jackson goes elsewhere, it's clear that the cupboard won't be completely bare.