Juan Thornhill was a consensus three-star recruit who played his high school ball at Altavista High in Altavista, Va. Thornhill was a productive defensive back for Virginia during his four years in Charlottesville. He finished with 13 interceptions, 39 pass breakups, 12.5 tackles-for-loss, and one forced fumble. He was named to the All ACC First team in 2018.
Thornhill is one of the best athletes in the history of the NFL Draft. He posted a 2.6 sigma, which landed him in the 99.5th percentile according to SPARQ. Thornhill was a standout basketball player in high school too.
There’s always going to be a question whenever a prospect posts elite athleticism scores at the Combine. For Thornhill, his athleticism shows up on the field too. He wasn’t isolated to any role on UVA’s defense. He played outside corner, nickel corner, deep safety, box safety, and dime linebacker.
Thornhill is facing the slot receiver in man coverage. He gets physical, which disrupts the initial phase of the route. Then he’s able to stay within the hip of the receiver before he breaks perfectly for the interception.
As a deep safety, Thornhill demonstrated a keen understanding of route concepts. Most safeties are taught to protect the deep middle and this route concept has the outside receiver attacking the middle of the field. Thornhill abandons the deep middle once he realizes the stunt will affect the quarterback. He matches with crossing route and then shows his athleticism by making a play on the ball.
Thornhill is the deep middle safety on this play. He proved that he can fluidly change direction within his backpedal to match any deep routes as he does here. It’s tough to find a safety who has the range to move directions so effortlessly.
Thornhill also showed he can drop into a deep half shell. The throw was certainly off the mark, but he consistently exhibited that a plethora of zone coverage concepts.
That’s not even the best part of the interception though. Check out this return. It’s almost like being a freak athlete helps on the field.
Thornhill was a reliable run defender for the Cavaliers. There is a clear alley for the running back on each of these runs, but Thornhill prevents the run from being an explosive play with his tackling. Having a trustworthy safety who can tackle on the back end is a critical component for any defense.
In addition, Thornhill proved that he is an efficient run defender when he’s coming downhill. he reads the action and then quickly sprints to make a form tackle. He beats the blocker to the spot, which helps limit the gain.
Thornhill was utilized as a blitzer off the edge too. He had a knack for taking good angles in the run and pass game.
Fit with Carolina
I haven’t finalized my grades yet, but I have a hard time seeing 20 players better than Juan Thornhill. Do I expect him to get taken in the top 20? Probably not. However, the Panthers have been searching for a versatile safety who has range for years. His instincts are excellent and of course his athleticism is elite. Thornhill also had the production in a major conference. He is an easy projection and Carolina should strongly consider him with their first round pick.