UW tackle expected to be high draft pick


Nov 23, 2005
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Fontana, CA
Special to the Journal Sentinel
Posted: Feb. 21, 2007

Indianapolis - Joe Thomas, who's generally regarded as the finest offensive lineman to ever play for the University of Wisconsin, is in the middle of five-day job interview. Only this is one where future employers spend more time looking for what's wrong with you than what's right.

Joe Thomas has a chance to be just the third offensive tackle to be taken with the No. 1 overall pick.

Thomas arrived at the NFL combine here Wednesday where general managers, scouts and coaching staffs began the process of trying to find faults in Thomas' game, his character or his surgically repaired right knee.

Those who know Thomas best, though, offer this sentiment: Good luck.

"He still leaves his dirty socks on the floor," said Sally Thomas, Joe's mother. "But that's about it."

Thomas' mom may be a bit biased. But she might be right.

Thomas' abilities on the field are well-documented. He was a two-time All-American left tackle, and this season Thomas became UW's first Outland Trophy winner, an award given to college football's top interior lineman.

That alone has most believing Thomas will be among the first to go when the NFL draft arrives April 28.

"He's an outstanding player and probably a potential top-5 pick," said Cleveland Browns senior vice president and general manager Phil Savage. "Now, the Browns are in the top 5. So, obviously, there's some interest in our part in Joe."

As fantastic as Thomas has been on the field, those closest to him he's even better off of it. And that will only add to his draft stock.

Thomas carries a 3.5 grade point average in business. He was a finalist for college football's top scholar-athlete award this season and scored an impressive 29 on the Wonderlic test last year.

Thomas is expected to measure about 6-foot-8 and weigh around 308 pounds - both ideal for a left tackle. Thomas, who's also a track standout, has good strength and holds the UW record in the shot put. So when it's time for him to lift 225 pounds, he's expecting to do so between 24-28 times.

What separates Thomas from the pack, though, is his tremendous athleticism.

It's extremely rare for linemen to run the 40-yard dash in less than 5.0 seconds. But NFL scouts clocked Thomas at 4.87 seconds nearly two years ago during UW's pro day.

Thomas has fantastic feet, long arms, and appears to be a ready-made pass blocker. He can also pull, slide and block in space, meaning he could be a beast in the run game.

"You don't find many left tackles like him," one NFC scout said. "Teams look long and hard for guys like that. I would expect he'll play in our league a long, long time."

If there is a question teams want answered it's regarding Thomas' knee.

During the Badgers' Capital One Bowl game against Auburn in 2006, Thomas tore his right anterior cruciate ligament while filling in on Wisconsin's injury-ravaged defensive line. And doubts immediately surrounded his future.

"As soon as that happened, I told people he would come back better than ever," UW coach Bret Bielema said. "He probably worked harder to recover from that injury than what normal people think is possible."

In Thomas' first major test last year, he fared well against Michigan standout defensive end Lamar Woodley, who had just a solo tackle and a sack against the Badgers.

And things only got better from there.

"Our doctors here gave me a clean bill of health way back when," Thomas said. "And I feel much stronger at this point. I think I proved during the year that my knee is healthy and I don't think they're going to bat an eye at all over my knee."

If they don't, Thomas could be entering some rare territory.

Just two offensive tackles have ever been taken No. 1 overall - Minnesota's Ron Yary in 1968 and St. Louis' Orlando Pace in 1997.

While Oakland and Detroit - who hold the top two picks - are desperate for quarterbacks, both also need offensive line help and could opt for Thomas.

"I think the goal when you go to the combine and start this process is to be drafted as highly as possible and do as well as you can," Thomas said. "And when you're talking about a guy being mentioned in the top 5, your goal should be to try and be No. 1."

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