Thomas could be first Hoosier off the board this weekend

Since the day he stepped onto Indiana’s campus less than two years ago, Ian Thomas has stood out as a most intriguing prospect.

Strong, tall and fast, Thomas fits the mold of an NFL tight end. Even during his first season with the Hoosiers in 2016, when he caught only three passes for 28 yards, the 6-foot-4, 259-pound Thomas physically looked the part of a player capable of cashing in at the next level.

Now, he’s about to get his chance.

Thomas could come off the board as early as Friday night when the NFL Draft stretches into the second of three days in Arlington, Texas. Viewed as one of the top five tight ends in the draft class, Thomas is on the verge of becoming the first of a handful of Hoosiers who could hear their names called this weekend.

“It’s been neat to see,” IU coach Tom Allen said. “It really has. You wish that for all of them, that they’d be able to finish extremely well. He was a unique situation, coming from a junior college. Even his high school years (didn’t) allow him to be as developed as some guys are. He’s one of those unique guys that, talking to all the NFL scouts, they feel he has so much upside.”

CBS Sports ranks Thomas as the No. 5 available tight end in the class, slotting him, in order, behind South Dakota State’s Dallas Goedert, Penn State’s Mike Gesicki, Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews and NC State’s Jaylen Samuels. At NFL.com, Thomas has the fourth highest prospect grade, trailing only Gesicki, South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst and Goedert.

Following a quiet junior campaign, Thomas exploded as one of the better offensive weapons in the Big Ten this past season. The JUCO product finished second among conference tight ends with 15.0 yards per reception and tied for third with five receiving touchdowns.

Although injuries limited him across the middle of Indiana’s season, Thomas made the most of the snaps he did see.

The Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars, Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens are among the teams that have expressed interest in Thomas.

“Thomas reminds me of Jermaine Gresham when he came out of Oklahoma, not the version you see today,” NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein wrote of Thomas in his personal scouting report. “Like Gresham, Thomas has the bend and “man strength” to become a successful in-line blocker if he improves his hand placement and grit. His production is lacking due to shorter two-year run at Indiana and a senior season filled with injuries, but it is easy to see NFL ability that just needs coaching and more experience. Thomas is an ascending combination tight end with an ability to become a good NFL starter who can be flexed around the field.”

A few other Hoosiers hope to join Thomas in the NFL next season.

Linebackers Tegray Scales and Chris Covington, receiver Simmie Cobbs and cornerback Rashard Fant are among the most likely IU players to get drafted this weekend.

Scales and Fant pondered the possibility of entering the NFL Draft after stellar junior seasons in 2016, before ultimately choosing to return for their final years of eligibility.

Scales led the Hoosiers with 12.5 tackles for loss in 2017, finishing his college career with 325 career tackles.

Scales, who has visited with the New England Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts, says he saw clear benefits from returning for his senior year.

“Physically, I think I did,” Scales said. “I’m about to graduate. … I think that’s probably the biggest accomplishment that I’m headed toward for my family and everybody. That’s something nobody can take from you, so I think I made the right decision.”

As for draft grades and potential landing spots, Scales is letting his agent handle all of that.

“I try to stay away from that stuff,” he said.

Scales’ fellow linebacker, Chris Covington, is reaping the rewards of a strong final season a half, during which he established himself at IU’s Mike linebacking spot. Covington, who played both linebacker and quarterback during his Indiana career, tried to demonstrate his versatility for scouts in recent months.

He played defensive back in high school and has the body and athleticism to move freely on the field.

“It’s definitely an advantage for me, being able to go out there and move around as a linebacker and do specific drills, because in the NFL you gotta be able to move,” Covington said. “Everybody’s fast, so you gotta be able to move, flip your hips, everything.”

Playing a premium position such as corner, Fant also seems to be in good position to get drafted. Boosting Fant’s stock is his ability to also contribute on special teams, too.

“I tell (teams) all the time, ‘I’ve been on every special teams besides kick return,'” Fant said. “I love being gunner on punt. I love returning punts, or having to block on the outside for punts. I did kickoff every year. They know they’re getting a lot from me. Whatever you want. You want me to go lock down on No. 3, No. 1 or No. 2? I don’t care. I just want to be on the field contributing and having some fun.”

Fant was limited this winter by a torn pectoral suffered at the NFL Combine, but he has since recovered. At Indiana’s Pro Day on April 3, Fant ran for the first time without a brace.

His time? 4.36 seconds

Fant has met with the Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans and Washington Redskins.

Fant says the NFL team personnel he’s spoken with have told him, “‘That you’re gonna be good. You got a lot of good film. You’re a good cover corner — a great cover corner.’ … It’s been a fun process for me, besides the injury. So I’m just grateful for it all.”

Cobbs is projected as a sixth- or seventh-round possibility by NFL.com. He’s worked out for the Chicago Bears and the Indianapolis Colts.

“Everybody’s dream when they come into college is to try to get to the next level,” Cobbs said. “But you have to take each day by each day. For us to be here right now (makes me) very happy.”

10 comments

  1. Today and Saturday will be big days for the IU players and I hope NFL teams see how good the players are. It would be great to see all them drafted but if not then they will be invited to teams preseason rosters. They will get a chance to show if they can play in the NFL this summer and I wish them the best.

  2. No doubt Thomas and Covington have the higher ceilings of the Hoosiers available. Scales is probably the closest to his potential. I hope Fant overcomes his size with savvy, speed and tough nose. Running a 4.36 while still under the shadow of injury recovery is damn near phenomenal. NFL teams never have enough cover corners. He maybe just fine.

    1. …often wondered why he did not return more kicks as he did in HS…maybe to valuable to lose on the D…

      1. Did the ‘Schoolhouse Rock’ guy ever do a “to” vs. “too” tune…?

        ‘To’ versus ‘t double o’….
        You’re gonna learn the difference soon….
        ‘To’ versus ‘t double o’…
        Why is that second ‘o’
        Puttin’ on such a show?

        You see it’s more than just a typo
        when ‘to’ gets another ‘o’…
        It’s the coolest word you’ll ever know.
        ‘T double o’….

        The extra ‘o’ means extra, in addition
        or to an excessive extent
        Like when you think you pay..
        Too much money for the rent!

        You’re gonna learn the difference soon.

        It won’t be too difficult this time…
        To know where to put that extra ‘o’
        Just remember ‘to’ turns into an adverb
        When it turns to ‘t double o’….

        You ask what’s an adverb…?
        We’ll save that for tomorrow…
        I just know when mean extra anything..
        Don’t use ‘to’ ..but use ‘t double o’!

        ‘To’ versus ‘t double o’…
        You’re gonna learn the difference soon.

  3. …I’ll add these 4 are prime examples of a bloggers claim IU needs to recruit moving forward ‘diamonds in the rough’…Wilson recruited these men…he initiated that prospecting rational the day he stepped foot in Indiana…just like most other B1G were executing and Allen is mirroring and expanding…

  4. Another ‘Schoolhouse Rock’ needed for “rational” vs. “rationale?”

    You’re gonna learn the difference soon……

  5. Congrats to Thomas for being drafted as the 101st pick. But aside from that, halfway through the fifth round (as of this writing), only one IU player has been drafted, and that’s not good. This year’s NFL draft is a setback to the momentum IU established over the last three years and to what was becoming an improved reputation. The NFL draft, like recruiting class rankings, is a barometer of a college’s football program, and after four consecutive years where IU players got drafted in the first three rounds, this year has been a disappointment. Comparing the number of IU players drafted this year to many other Power-five conference teams is an indication of just how far IU has to go in recruiting and developing better football players. Working hard and being a good, compassionate, high-integrity coaching staff is not going to change the trajectory of IU football fast enough. Improving facilities so that they are no longer sub-standard is important, but it is not going to be enough. Going head-to-head with traditional football powerhouse programs for 4 and 5-star recruits is a waste of time, at least in the immediate future. So, given IU Football’s reputation within the state of Indiana, and the fact that Indiana is a small-population state with two other in-state universities competing for relatively sparse amounts of football talent, TA and staff are going to have to think out of the box and find ways to identify and sign overlooked and under-valued and players from all over the country. TA is going to have to devise a system and processes that identify those overlooked and/or under-valued players that we’ve watched get drafted over the last three days. Not just quarterbacks, but all types of players. And to help them do that, Glass is going to have to give TA and staff more resources so that they can cast a much wider recruiting net; to start searching for talent, or being open to evaluating talent, from High Schools players located off the beaten path, in places where the prominent Power-five football programs don’t bother to search. Did you read how the QB coming out of a small farming town in central California sent out letters to every FBS football program in the country and did not get one positive response? I wonder if IU received one of those letters? If so, how does an IU coach not at least look at the tape of a 6’5″ kid with a cannon who ends up being the Buffalo Bills’ first round pick in this year’s draft? O.K., they missed him coming out of HS, but how do they miss him after a year of Junior College?

    All indications are that TA has continued to improve recruiting for IU. I love his opportunism for bringing in two quality, experienced graduate transfers from major programs. I love that he’s recruiting hard in Florida and the other southeastern states where guys that would be All-State if they’d attended HS in Indiana are overlooked by other Power-five programs. I love how IU’s new S&C staff is bringing state-of-the-art conditioning techniques to IU’s players. But IU has to do more to support TA’s effort to “break through.”

  6. Po, yes I wish IU did more for the football program to give the coaches more ways to reach recruits in states West of the Mississippi. IU is recruiting QBs in California so they are working on recruiting out West. There are smaller states that aren’t recruited very well with some very good athletes [not many in each state] that get over looked due to playing for small schools.

    I think our recruiting staff and coaches are working hard to find those quality players that others over look. I really like they are hitting the Chicago area hard and bringing in players from that area. One thing we have are coaches with a wide range of experience in recruiting areas so we are seeing athletes coming from areas we don’t normally get. Of course the SE USA and Florida are one of the hot beds of football players so they are hitting that area hard.

    The predraft evaluation and grades didn’t match with the draft and I have to wonder why they discounted IU players so much. Scales was one of the best in the B1G yet got no call. Fant ran a 4.36 forty and lead the nation at times in pass break-ups but got no call. Cobbs was rated as a 4th or 5th round pick and got no call. The NFL draft is unpredictable and this was the year it was just that for IUFB players.

  7. Cobbs made a huge mistake leaving early. I’m sure he’ll sign as a free agent, but they were drafting wide receivers in the sixth and seventh rounds from schools I’ve never heard of. That does not bode well for his future in the NFL. As for Scales, I too thought he’d go in the first five rounds, but he’s now on the outside looking in. As for Fant, not running at the combine hurt him, and he’s just not very big. Who knows if either of those three guys will be on an NFL roster next season, but this year’s NFL draft was not good for IU Football.

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