Shamarko Thomas has clearly had one of the roughest, if not the roughest journey to the NFL in this draft class. In the span of approximately one year, Thomas lost both his mother and father in tragic circumstances. His father, Abdul Shabazz died in a motorcycle accident while his mother, Ebeth Shabazz, died from a condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. With five siblings for Thomas to take care of, a lot of pressure has been put squarely on his shoulders and he certainly has responded. At Syracuse, Thomas played like a man on a mission and at times looked like a heat seeking missile when he sped around the field. Throughout Thomas’ career, he showed up for every big game and made a significant jump in each year. It is incredibly impressive to consider that Thomas jumped around from linebacker to cornerback to safety and served the team in whatever way necessary.
Breaking Thomas Down: Against the Run
Thomas starts out at approximately linebacker depth in a short yardage situation. At this point, Syracuse has made it obvious that Thomas will be blitzing and their main goal is to stop the running back in a short yardage situation.
Shamarko blitzes and a clear hole opens up for the fullback and for Shamarko. At this point the key for Thomas is to hit the hole as hard as the back and plug up a running lane for the fullback.
Thomas gets extremely low and drives the fullback behind his line of scrimmage. While Thomas does not finish the fullback, he gives the rest of the defense enough time to find the ball carrier and bring the offense to a halt. In many short yardage situations and on key plays, Thomas was always there for the Syracuse defense as he was the biggest play maker that Syracuse had.
Stopping the run when you have the freedom to run around the field is not nearly as hard as when you must play safety and consciously decide whether the play is a run or a pass. In this situation, Thomas starts about eight yards from the line of scrimmage.
Thomas quickly recognizes the run and makes his move toward the ball slowly at first, so as not to get sucked in by a play action fake. Once the ball makes its way into the gut of the running back, Thomas moves with remarkable speed toward the ball carrier. In this frame, the ball carrier is approximately six yards from the line of scrimmage while Thomas is about seven yards from the line of scrimmage.
Although he is difficult to see, Thomas makes the stop on the play about a yard or two in the Pitt back field. Essentially he beat the Pitt running back to the spot during the play through his speed, power, and recognition. On the way to the ball carrier, Thomas sheds a few ball carriers and wraps the player up in the backfield. This play exemplifies Thomas’ ability to identify a play and sniff it out before it gets some steam.
Overall, Thomas was one of the best safeties in the draft at playing the run and part of that comes from playing part of his career at linebacker. At 5’9″, Thomas is a tad short, but he is well built and he hits like a truck. Once he begins coming up to make a stop, there it is nearly impossible to stop him from making the play. At Syracuse, Thomas was in on a tackle regardless of whether he would be the first or last guy there. Often, when another player struggled to bring down the running back, tight end, or wide receiver, Thomas would come from out of the frame and instantly put the player down. While his physical skills are unquestionably good, Thomas’ mental ability is also above par. He reads plays extraordinarily well and acts quickly.
Breaking Thomas Down: The Pass
Thomas begins this play a little more than ten yards off the line of scrimmage. Although he is out of the frame, Thomas will be playing defense against Robert Woods, a second round pick of Thomas’ former coach, Doug Marrone.
As is demonstrated, Woods is given a good cushion by Thomas to run his route since Thomas was playing so deep off of the line of scrimmage. At this point, Thomas is still in his backpedal and Matt Barkley is still scanning the field.
At this point, Woods and Thomas have met and finally, Thomas breaks out of his backpedal to run with Woods down the field. They have about equal speed, but Woods has a little bit of size and length on Thomas.
The picture is terribly grainy and small, but Barkley throws the ball behind Woods just a bit and Thomas is quick enough to cut back just a bit and take the ball in. Impressively, he was able to square up his body on the ball in a quick time span and cut under woods as the ball had some zip on it. Thomas is not terrific at playing the ball in the air because of his size, but he will gobble up practically any mistake that the quarterback makes. In this case he stuck with Woods and made a terrific play on the ball.
In this sequence, we will look at Thomas’ ability to sniff out a play that goes to a target that he is not covering. In this case, The Pitt tight end, number 87 runs a quick comeback route along the sideline. Thomas backpedals with his man, but he quickly reads where the quarterback is going with the ball.
Thomas quickly makes a break on the ball carrier before the receiver he is defending turns into a blocker. The man in coverage on the tight end is no where to be found on the play so Thomas must make the stop to prevent the tight end from getting yards after the catch.
On this play, Thomas gets to the ball carrier and ends any chance that the ball carrier has of getting a first down. Regardless of the down and distance, Thomas makes it certain that the offense must work out of a short yardage situation. The most important piece of this clip however, is Thomas’ closing speed. When Thomas has an offensive player in his sights, there is no doubt that whoever that is will feel Thomas’ hit for a long time.
Again, Thomas is lined up in one on one coverage against Robert Woods near the sideline. Woods had a very good statistical day against Syracuse with ten receptions for 93 yards and two touchdowns as well as one run for 76 yards.
Shamarko starts out the play by shoving Woods around a little bit and then remaining in contact down the sideline. He is extremely aggressive down the sideline for the duration of the play and definitely exceeds the “five yard bump zone” a little bit. Woods is not the most physical receiver, but he certainly will get into it if he needs to get open.
Matt Barkley directed a throw toward Robert Woods, but Woods could not make his way back into the field of play to make the catch. Thomas made a nice play down the sideline by pushing Robert Woods away from the field and by manhandling him. Syracuse corners could not handle Woods all game, but Thomas seemed to be able to shut Woods down when they went against each other during this game.
Thomas does a strong job in coverage in most situations. The only two things that will get in the way of Shamarko Thomas being successful are injuries and his height. Thomas has consistently had concussion issues and various other injuries because he plays with a high level of reckless abandon. His height could be a problem in jump balls in plays down the field.
I fully believe that Thomas being a fourth round pick will turn out to be a steal for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He will give everything he has for the Steelers organization and he has all the skills and tools to be a very successful player and one underestimated factor in his game is that he is a leader by example. I believe that Thomas is a Steeler of old: tough, gritty, and hard hitting. He is one of those players that is terrible to play against and incredible to have on your side. While I believe that Thomas’ skill set is phenomenal, the biggest part of his game may be that he is a man who cannot afford to fail. He plays every game for his mother, his father, and each and every one of his siblings. Consistently, fans have watched Thomas play with his back against the wall for the last few years and each time he fought his way out and now should not be any different.