The recruiting news for the Georgia Bullodgs went from good to great last night as Kirby Smart’s crew followed the commitment of four star tailback Toneil Carter with the commitment of four star Pace Academy offensive tackle Andrew Thomas. Thomas chose the Bulldogs over finalists Clemson and Notre Dame, but also claimed offers from Alabama, Auburn, Florida, FSU, LSU, Miami, Michigan, Tennessee, and Virginia Tech.
Thomas is ranked the #49 player in the class of 2017 by 247Sports, and the #10 offensive tackle in the country*. You can see Thomas in action during his junior season below.
A few things stand out from the get-go about the 6’5, 320 pounder. One is his build. We talk a lot about how there are a whole lot of different ways to be big. Some guys who are 6’5, 320 pounds have thin legs, others have shorter arms. Some are kind of “doughy”.** Thomas has none of these issues. He has enough lower body mass to be able to sink his hips and stand his ground in pass blocking situations. He has long arms which, like a boxer's, allow him to land his hands on the other guy first. And he isn’t carrying around a lot of bad weight that will have to be worked off of him before he’s ready to play.
In terms of what happens once the ball is snapped, my favorite thing about Thomas’s highlight tape is the number of plays on which he’s making things happen as a defensive lineman (he was huge factor defensively for Pace in the state title game against Fitzgerald, as this film makes clear). I’ve had at least one college coach tell me that he never recruits high school offensive linemen whose feet aren’t quick enough to allow them to play defense. Thomas has a nice first step and unexpected straight line speed for a guy his size. One of the things I also really like about Thomas is his ability to get out in space and block without looking lost. Thomas moves very, very well for his size and should be ahead of the curve in terms of screen blocking and the pull/trap game from the day he arrives on campus.
It’s sometimes tough to tell how strong Thomas actually is because he just physically overwhelms so many of the guys he played against in AA football. But my sense from this tape and the very limited camp footage I’ve seen is that his upper body strength is adequate. I can say that at The Opening his power ball throw was 41 feet, which is good for an offensive lineman, though not elite.
Thomas also stays with his blocks well, harassing his targets 10, 15 20 yards downfield. I like that kind of nasty streak, even if so many of his victims don’t exactly possess prototypical SEC size and strength. Thomas does have some technique issues to work out. His hand position is not always ideal. He gets a little lazy in his stance on a few of these plays and telegraphs where he’s going with his foot setup sometimes. But that’s something that college and even pro linemen continually have to guard against. It’s also the kind of thing that I trust Coach Pittman to break him of.
In the end analysis, Georgia didn’t do what it needed to do as part of the 2016 class to get better on the offensive line. Ben Cleveland is a strong candidate for early playing time, and Chris Barnes is an under-the-radar guy who could be the surprise of the signing class. The late addition of Solomon Kindley also added some numbers and bulk. But Georgia missed on some elite offensive linemen, including a couple of great instate offensive tackles who could have made an immediate impact. 2017 is shaping up to be just the opposite. Thomas and fellow Bulldog commits D’Antne Demery and Netori Johnson are, in my mind, the top three offensive linemen in the state. And it’s not that close. Fellow 2017 pledge Justin Shaffer is some serious gym time and a few salads away from moving from a three star to a four star headed into Signing Day. And it’s unlikely that Smart and Pittman are done up front. Georgia might still find room for Grayson tackle Tony Gray or Jefferson guard Caleb Chandler. There’s definitely room for five star New York offensive tackle Isaiah Wilson if he decides he wants to come to Athens (though admittedly that one’s a long shot).
*Yes, one in five of the top players in the nation this year is an offensive tackle. It is a very good year at the position.
**This is my favorite scouting euphemism for “When he walks into Chipotle they just hand him the sour cream squeeze bottle and get out of the way.”