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Inside the Miami Dolphins '11 Draft Class: Daniel Thomas

When the Miami Dolphins traded up into the end of round two, surrendering multiple draft picks to essentially move up 17 spots, many were assuming it was going to be a certain quarterback whose name was called. However, the apple of Jeff Ireland's eye was actually Kansas State running back Daniel Thomas - who was the 3rd or 4th back on most teams' draft boards.

And we learned that Ireland and the Dolphins were indeed correct with their feeling that the Bengals would have taken Thomas at the top of round three if Miami didn't make their aggressive move up the board to nab their guy. Since his selection, though, fans have been torn on Thomas. What kind of back will the 6'0, 230 pound Thomas be? We've heard comparisons to Ronnie Brown, Steven Jackson, and (my favorite) Eddie George.

So what kind of kid did the Dolphins get when they drafted Thomas?

"Great kid. Doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink, doesn’t party," Kansas State offensive coordinator Dana Dimel told the Palm Beach Post. "Just a good kid from a good family. I think everybody down there is going to like him."

As far as his ability on the field, Dimel says he sees a little Adrian Peterson in him, as well as Jamal Lewis and Steven Jackson.

"I’ve told [Kansas State coach] Bill Snyder he kind of reminds me of Peterson, in that he’s such a natural. And he runs extremely hard, which is where Lewis and Jackson come in."

But Dimel is not exactly an impartial party here. So I decided to turn to SBN's excellent Kansas State blog, Bring On The Cats, to get some additional perspective on Daniel Thomas. Below is what Tye Burger, manager of BOTC, had to say about the Miami Dolphins' new running back. And in all seriousness, you won't find a better scouting report ever on Thomas:

Daniel Thomas, RB, Kansas State University
Junior Season, 2008-2009: 247 carries (20.6/game), 1,265 yards, 5.1 yards/carry, 11 TD, 105.4 yards/game
Senior Season: 2009-2010: 298 carries (22.9/game), 1,585 yards, 5.3 yards/carry, 19 TD, 121.9 yards/game

First of all, forgive me, I'm nominally a Chiefs fan who doesn't follow the NFL especially carefully. Living where I've lived -- Nebraska, Kansas, Texas and Missouri -- the NFL takes a back seat to college football.

Reading the comments at The Phinsider has shown me a decidedly mixed reaction to the Dolphins' decision to trade up and draft Thomas late in the second round. And "mixed" may be generous. A lot of you are worried that Thomas is too slow, too upright, too un-durable, too fumble-prone, and not sufficiently powerful given his lack of speed.

All of this may be correct. I'm sure you want the K-State "insider" to come riding in on his purple horse and tell you everything will be alright. While I'd like to do that, and while I think Thomas could be a solid player in the NFL, I can't make any guarantees. I've read through a couple of your comment threads reacting to the Thomas pick, so I've picked out some of the concerns expressed and will respond to them.

First, I'll start with the positives. While Daniel Thomas is not the flashiest back, and has no particular attribute that stands out, he just gets the job done. His stats for his two seasons at K-State are listed above, and he led the Big 12 in rushing both seasons. He averaged more than one rushing touchdown per game for his career. And he did that all playing for a team with this guy at quarterback in 2009-10, or in 2008-09 a guy whose shoulder was hanging on by a few muscle fibers and wishful thinking. To illustrate the point, in 2008-09, Thomas put up the numbers he did with two quarterbacks who combined for six touchdown passes and eight interceptions. The Wildcats would have been only slightly worse throwing the ball had I been out there at QB.

As a point of comparison, I've seen some Phinsider members point out that they would have preferred picking Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter over Thomas. I can't argue against Hunter, who is a fine back. But Hunter played on a team with Brandon Weeden at QB (342/511, 34 TDs, 13 INTs, 329 yards/game) and Justin Blackmon at wide receiver (111 receptions, 1,782 yards, 20 TDs, 148.5 yards/game in only 12 games). Hunter had weapons all over the field around him, while Thomas had none of that. Every defense that K-State faced knew that Thomas was going to get the ball at least 1/3 of the time. Beyond that, opposing defenses really had no fear that anyone else would beat them, especially after shattered leg bones ended the seasons of our two best wide receivers.

Another issue that I've seen is Thomas' durability. During the pre-draft, there was some question that a hamstring injury was nagging Thomas, and suddenly everyone was wondering if he had the wherewithal to be an NFL back. One of our beat writers did some digging and found that the hamstring injury may have been due to dehydration. Whether you buy that or not, I'd put more stock in Thomas' body of work over two full season of football, rather than one offseason. In two seasons, Thomas carried the ball 545 times and didn't miss any playing time. Rumor was that he had a bum shoulder during his junior season, but if he did, he powered through it and led the Big 12 in rushing. Reasonable minds can disagree, but I'd rather have a player who I know can play through injuries than a player who sits out with a hangnail.

Before I get to Thomas' possible downside, there's one more positive to address. Again, I'm not a big NFL fan, but if I'm remembering correctly -- and I drink beer, like, every night, so my memory is failing me -- Miami was the first NFL team to implement the Wildcat formation, and still uses it to some degree. If that's the case, then Thomas is the prototype running back for Miami. K-State ran the Wildcat fairly often, always with Thomas taking the snap. Thomas was a quarterback in junior college before he came to K-State. He doesn't have the most accurate arm, but he's better at completing a pass than your average running back, and his familiarity with the quarterback position makes him comfortable taking snaps and executing fakes in the backfield. Last season, he completed four of his eight pass attempts, unfortunately throwing one interception against his only touchdown. In any event, he's a credible passing threat who opposing defenses will have to take seriously, even if most of what he does out of the Wildcat formation is run a midline option or sweep.

But enough of the positives, let's look at the causes for concern with Thomas. One that I've seen over and over is Thomas' ball security issues. I can't find statistics on it, but suffice to say that putting the ball on the turf was a concern with Thomas in his two years at K-State. As a natural quarterback, Thomas had to work through a tendency to carry the ball too loosely. Things seemed to improve as time wore on, and while again I don't have any stats on it, my feeling was that Thomas did a much better job of protecting the pigskin by the end of last season. How that translates to the NFL is anyone's guess. Maybe Thomas has worked on his technique and this will be a thing of the past, but it's an open question at this point.

Another criticism I've seen repeatedly is that Thomas lacks burst. This is absolutely true. Thomas is not an explosive runner who is likely to put his outside foot down and blow by an entire defense. He's more of a grinder, a guy who you can give the ball to a lot and will pick his away around for three yards here, two yards here, and six yards here. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry for a career in which every defense he faced expected him to get the ball on almost every play. While he's not a home-run hitter, he is very patient, he is very good at reading his blocks, and he will make the best of the situation in which he finds himself. If that means he has to fight to the death for two yards, then he'll do it. If it means that he can bounce a run outside for a 20+ yard gain, he can do that, too. While I know that everyone likes the home-run hitter, there's a place for the guy who doesn't hit for power, but hits for average and a high OBP.

Finally, no discussion of Thomas would be complete without mentioning his running style. Again, as a former quarterback, I agree that Thomas tend to run very upright. Running upright never seemed to be a problem for Thomas in college, as he never missed a game, or any real playing time, to injury. But I can see why this is an area of concern. Upright runners tend to get shredded in the NFL. Look no further than Ron Dayne, a humongous bruiser whose career was sidetracked by high-ankle sprains. Other than working on ball security, I think keeping pad level down will be Thomas' biggest area to work on. At 6'2", 228 lbs., Thomas was big enough in college that he could match up physically with most linebackers, and overpower any defensive backs. Beyond that, he's just shifty enough that he can avoid big hits. That may not be the case in the NFL, so he'll have to learn new ways to protect himself, and keeping his pads down will be a priority.

So that pretty much sums it up for what I have to say about Thomas. We really enjoyed watching Thomas play at K-State, and if we hadn't had him, it's highly unlikely that K-State would have posted an overall winning record (barely) the past two seasons. No matter what his other limitations may be, you'll never be able to say that Thomas didn't give you maximum effort on every play. Whether he has the talent to make that effort translate into the production you're looking for from a second-round draft pick is still anyone's guess.

I'm sure my thoughts above have generated as many new questions as they've answered. If you have a specific question that wasn't answered, post it in the comments and I'll do my best to getting you a response.

Again, I want to thank Tye for an absolutely tremendous scouting report on Daniel Thomas. Seriously, this was outstanding. And if you want more info on Kansas State athletics, do head over to Bring On The Cats - the very best K-State site you will ever find.