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Tech's Thomas left with few doubters
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ATLANTA — Demaryius Thomas is perhaps the most unlikely of the 16 players who will attend tonight’s first round of the NFL draft.

Thomas was a receiver in Georgia Tech’s spread-option attack which ranked second in the nation in rushing. It’s not easy to show NFL skills as a receiver when blocking on triple-option plays.

The challenge grew substantially more imposing when Thomas suffered a broken foot a week before the NFL combine.

Thomas acknowledged he didn’t expect to be included in the group of elite prospects invited to attend the draft to New York.

“I didn’t think I was going to be invited,” he said. “I’m very surprised.”

Thomas already was in New York on Tuesday, when he was fitted for a new suit.

“It’s exciting,” he said. “I’m just ready to get it started.”

Draft expert Todd McShay said there’s a simple reason Thomas is considered a probable
first-round pick despite the injury and his background in a run-first option offense:

“Game tape,” McShay said. “That’s the answer.”

At 6-foot-3 and 224 pounds and with sub-4.4 times in the 40 before the injury, Thomas has too much size and speed for teams to ignore.

Even if he is an unlikely first-round prospect.

“There’s not many prospects you would just draft without watching him do anything during the pre-draft process,” said McShay, ESPN Scouts Inc. director of college football scouting. “And he comes from an offense that doesn’t pass the ball.”

Thomas was still in a walking boot when NFL scouts and coaches visited Atlanta for Georgia Tech’s pro day on March 15. He finally had a private workout for about 10 teams on Sunday, but he still wasn’t able to run a 40-yard dash.

The Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Atlanta Falcons, New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens and St. Louis Rams were among teams attending the private workout. Thomas went through positional drills and tried to show his right foot is healing.

“It went well,” Thomas said. “I did everything they wanted me to do. I feel like I did great. I did a lot of planting on my right foot.”
Some mock drafts have Thomas being selected by the Ravens with the 25th pick.

“The think Baltimore has a lot of interest,” he said. “I think it would be a good fit. They run the ball a lot.”

Thomas suffered the injury while training in Arizona. He said he ran the 40 in 4.38 seconds in Arizona before the injury.

McShay said there’s no reason to worry about Thomas having sufficient speed to be a big-play threat in the NFL.

“I can tell you from watching him on film, at 6-foot-3 and 224 pounds, he runs in 4.4s,” McShay said. “There’s no question in my mind. He is just so explosive after the catch and does a great job of using his body just naturally.

“His instincts as a playmaker, just using his body to shield defenders down the field, I think he has a chance to be a special receiver and the upside is so high with him. You’re just scratching the surface when you watch him on film.”

The film also shows Thomas to be a devastating blocker.

“All the blocking I did in games and in practice is paying off a lot,” Thomas said. “I feel like I’m one of the best blocking receivers coming out of this draft.

“I think it helped me out a lot, actually. I know a lot of teams run the ball and if they can get a big receiver who can block, it really helps the offense.”

Georgia Tech ranked second in the nation in rushing and set Atlantic Coast Conference records with 47 rushing touchdowns and 4,136 yards rushing. That was great for the spread-option running backs, including Jonathan Dwyer, another junior in the draft.

Thomas’ production in the passing game was a surprise in the run-oriented offense. Opposing safeties had to focus on Tech’s running game, so Thomas usually was left in man coverages. He had 46 catches for 1,154 yards and eight touchdowns in 2009 while averaging 25.1 yards per catch.

There is a precedent which may help Thomas in the draft.

One year ago, Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree was a first-round pick by San Francisco despite also having a broken foot before the draft. The difference is Crabtree came out of a pass-happy offense where he showed his ability to run complicated routes.

Thomas doesn’t have that experience.

“He doesn’t run NFL routes,” McShay said. “He’s got a lot to learn in terms of NFL routes, how to get in and out of breaks. There are times you watch him on tape and he’ll lose focus and drop a pass.”

Thomas will be joined by Georgia Tech teammate Derrick Morgan, a defensive end expected to be one of the top 10 picks, at the draft. Dwyer and another junior from Georgia Tech, safety Morgan Burnett, also are expected to be picked in the first two days.
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