Heading into 2018 off-season, the tight end position faced many questions for the Carolina Panthers. They smartly allowed Ed Dickson to walk in free agency. They showed interest in young free agents such as Eric Ebron and Luke Willson, but each player decided to sign elsewhere. Greg Olsen’s future was in doubt when a report surfaced about his interest in Monday Night Football.
Since then, the position group has started to take shape. Olsen signed a contract extension for another two seasons. In addition, Carolina drafted Ian Thomas with the first pick in the 4th round.
Thomas was only a one year starter at Indiana. His production was low, but that could be contributed to a questionable offensive scheme with inconsistent quarterback play. Nevertheless, Thomas’ upside is intriguing. His SPARQ score was in the 91.2th percentile, which was the second best in the class behind Mike Gesicki.
Let’s dive into his film to dissect his strengths, areas of improvement, and fit in the Panthers offense.
Despite Thomas’ lack of experience, his route running was advanced in many areas. He showed good hand usage, body movements, and the ability to control his speed within his routes.
Ian Thomas is a solid route runner. Sets up the defender with an inside cut before exploding outside. Shows his long speed to out run the defense pic.twitter.com/quL8hQbAxL— Billy Marshall (@BillyM_91) May 6, 2018
Thomas lines up in the slot inside the numbers. He starts his route in a straight line before using two steps inside, but then bursts outside. This catches the defensive back off balance. Thomas earns deep separation. He finishes the play by out running the defense, but also using a late stiff arm to carry a defender into the end zone.
Thomas runs an out and up. Sells the out with a good head fake before bursting up field pic.twitter.com/8EZIn1rTvt— Billy Marshall (@BillyM_91) May 6, 2018
Thomas is running an out and up route on this play. He utilizes an effective head fake while selling the out. Thomas shows fluid movements and no wasted steps within this route.
Indiana runs an RPO. Both LBs commit to the run, which opens the seam for Thomas. pic.twitter.com/JO5aPxrs1R— Billy Marshall (@BillyM_91) May 6, 2018
Another exciting aspect of Thomas’ skill set is his speed to threaten defenses down the seam. Indiana is running an RPO. Both of the linebackers commit to the run, which opens a sizable window for the quarterback to target Thomas. Thomas runs a seam route, but has to make a minor adjustment to the ball before running for a touchdown.
Good hand usage by Thomas when he breaks his dig route inside. Continues running his route to provide the QB an outlet while he's scrambling. Perfect hands technique and gains YAC pic.twitter.com/goRFFKATXP— Billy Marshall (@BillyM_91) May 6, 2018
This is where Thomas displays his hand usage at the top of routes. The defender has his body turned towards the sideline. Thomas uses his hands to swipe the defender, which creates leverage for him to separate. He finds himself open, but he continues running his route to provide an outlet for the scrambling quarterback. Thomas uses perfect hands technique to catch the ball and then proceeds to explode to the second level.
Thomas’ low production is a concern, but he exhibits many positive traits as a pass catcher.
If Thomas wants to earn immediate playing time, then he has to become a reliable blocker. The positive news is that he has the functional power to match up with any defensive lineman.
Ian Thomas' blocking stands out. Straight up throws down the edge rusher giving the RB a lane pic.twitter.com/iCUTLgPe3R— Billy Marshall (@BillyM_91) April 29, 2018
Thomas creates a running lane for the ball carrier by using his grip strength and upper body power to remove the edge defender.
He has to continue to develop his technique though. He has shown the propensity to come off the snap too high, which gets him overpowered. Furthermore, his understanding of blocking angles has to improve too.
Thomas gets himself into trouble on this run. He comes off too high, which causes his hand placement to be off. As a result, Thomas isn’t afforded an ideal angle to remove the defender.
Fit on Carolina
Ian Thomas is a massive upgrade over Ed Dickson. Like MASSIVE. Excellent excellent pick.— Billy Marshall (@BillyM_91) April 28, 2018
I made this comment immediately after the selection and I stand by it.
Ed Dickson’s value as a blocker became a bit overrated during his final year in Carolina. He didn’t show the same consistency that he did during his first few years with the franchise. While Thomas is raw as a blocker, he presents tremendous upside. His lack of experience is partially why I’m optimistic that he will pick up on blocking angles and protection schemes.
The former Hoosier is an ideal compliment to Greg Olsen. I was impressed with his route running as a pass catcher. Norv Turner mostly uses 11 personnel (3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB). Thomas might not see much playing time early in his career, but he has the opportunity to learn behind one of the best in the game.