Former Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas has spent three seasons demonstrating that he is a superior college football player. If his case for a shot to play in the NFL hasn’t been made yet, he has one morning to make a compelling argument.
On Friday at Tech’s Pro Day, Thomas will throw for scouts, and he’ll also take part in wide receiver, cornerback and return drills in hopes of turning heads. It’s possible he has a mind-blowing 40-yard dash time in store.
“Going into it, I don’t know what to expect,” Thomas told the AJC on Thursday. “I just go in there, keep all my options open and hope the best comes.”
Thomas will be one of seven former Tech football players who will work out for coaches and talent evaluators at Tech’s indoor practice facility leading to the April 27-29 draft. The others are center Freddie Burden, kicker Harrison Butker, linebacker P.J. Davis, defensive linemen Patrick Gamble and Francis Kallon and punter Ryan Rodwell. Two other former Yellow Jackets, defensive lineman Emmanuel Dieke and linebacker Tyler Marcordes, will work out as free agents, having previously signed NFL contracts.
Since the end of the season, Thomas has trained for Pro Day with Tech strength-and-conditioning coach John Sisk. He was a late addition to the Senior Bowl as a cornerback, recognition of the NFL’s interest in him. Thomas played in the game without having practiced that week. In fact, Thomas hadn’t played a position other than quarterback since he played quarterback and safety at Georgia Washington Middle School near Montgomery, Ala.
Thomas played nickel back in the Senior Bowl, going in on packages where the defense was in man coverage.
“They said, ‘Play man’ and I guarded the guy in front of me,” said Thomas, who was credited with an assisted tackle.
Thomas’ strong preference is to get a shot at quarterback, where he started for three seasons and became the first Tech quarterback to throw for 4,000 passing yards and rush for 2,000. Completing 53 percent of his passes in a scheme where he often threw deep, his passing efficiency rating as a senior was 157.01, which would have been 12th nationally had he accumulated enough attempts.
He has at least two strikes against him, however — his height (generously listed at 5-foot-11) and his playing in a run-heavy offense. NFL.com does not list him among its 22 quarterback draft prospects and the website Draft Analyst goes 49 quarterbacks deep without him.
However, according to his representation, ESQ Agency, at least four teams want to see him go through quarterback drills.
“I’ve played on every level and I’ve been successful at it, and I’ve won big games and championships on every level,” Thomas said. “I’m not going to say (the NFL) is not different, but I’m a winner and I feel like I can compete at any level.”
He has also worked on pass routes, getting some pointers from former Tech star DeAndre Smelter, now with the 49ers, and on cornerback drills. For Pro Day, he was planning to throw to former Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill (Smelter is not available), and he’ll catch passes from former Tech quarterback Tevin Washington, now a graduate assistant with the Jackets.
“He’s doing good,” Thomas said of Washington. “He’s holding up. He’s got one more round to go.”
He has also been fielding punts from Rodwell and kickoffs from Butker.
“I haven’t been doing too bad,” he said of fielding kicks. “I’m starting to feel comfortable with it.”
Whatever position he plays, there’s plenty to recommend him, starting with his quickness, speed, football sense and character. It’s possible he may have what would be a stunner of a hole card for scouts Friday. Thomas said he has run the 40-yard dash in 4.2 seconds, which is reaching the ceiling for speed over that distance. The NFL draft combine record was set earlier this month by former Washington wide receiver John Ross at 4.22 seconds.
Thomas said he ran it at a camp at Auburn while he was at Prattville (Ala.) High. He hasn’t run a timed 40 in preparation for the Pro Day.
“We’ll see if I can touch those numbers again,” he said.
Thomas can find encouragement in two who have gone before him. Joshua Nesbitt, coach Paul Johnson’s first quarterback at Tech, spent one season on the Bills’ practice squad and briefly was on the active roster. Keenan Reynolds played quarterback at Navy in a similar offense and was drafted in the sixth round last year by the Ravens and was converted to wide receiver.
A tiring morning awaits. If it goes like most of his other performances at Tech, NFL scouts will leave with Thomas on their minds.
“It came quicker than expected, but it’s here now,” Thomas said. “I’ve prepared well for it. I’ll be ready to go.”