Each Monday, Wednesday and Friday leading up to the NFL Draft April 22nd, Buffalobills.com will profile one of the more highly touted prospects at each position in the 2010 draft class. A position group video preview will accompany each of these feature stories in the media lounge featuring the top five prospects at each position. We continue our pre-draft feature series with Texas safety Earl Thomas.
We often hear the line used by NFL players when they sign as a free agent with another club that they're, "doing what's best for their family." Very often it's difficult to debate that statement, but having been in the league for a few years most NFL players have some measure of financial stability. Thus the statement has trouble carrying a lot of weight with fans. However, if Texas safety Earl Thomas chose to make use of that statement, there would be no debate.
Choosing to enter this year's draft class as a redshirt sophomore, Thomas is widely considered a second-round pick at worst. After a solid pro day earlier this week he's likely to earn some late first round consideration.
Though deemed by many to be ready for NFL play, the main reason the first-team All-American declared for the draft was to help his family recover financially after they were victims of Hurricane Rita.
While the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the New Orleans region should never be forgotten, it completely overshadowed the impact of Hurricane Rita, which pounded the southeast coast of Texas less than a month later in 2005. Rita in fact was a stronger storm system than Katrina ranking as the fourth most intense Atlantic hurricane in recorded history. Katrina ranked sixth.
When Rita made landfall on Sept. 23 between Sabine Pass, Texas and Johnsons Bayou, Louisiana, the Thomas family home in Orange, Texas was a mere 30 miles away. With sustained winds of 115 to 130 miles per hour Rita leveled home and businesses causing over $11 billion in damage, the Thomas home was one of many that did not survive.
"It was devastating to the whole of Orange and everybody around the community," said Thomas. "We were staying in a hotel for a while."
Texas Governor Rick Perry declared a nine county region including Orange a disaster area. With his family still struggling to get back on their feet more than four years later, Thomas chose to forgo his last two collegiate seasons.
"That was one of the biggest reasons for me coming out," Thomas said. "It was a big family decision and I felt like I was ready for the next level and I'd get to be a great help to the family."
Seeing his grandfather, a church pastor, organize a recovery project for victims of Hurricane Katrina, Thomas felt helping his parents turn the corner in their recovery from Hurricane Rita was a no brainer.
"I'm going to definitely get them out of my grandparent's house and live in my house," said Thomas. "Just surprise them."
With cornerback speed and an aggressive playing style the Texas safety should be able to follow through on his mission tohelp his family. Thomas turned in his share of big plays in just two seasons with the Longhorns posting 10 interceptions including two for touchdowns and five forced fumbles.
Many NFL talent evaluators see Thomas as a multi-faceted option in the defensive backfield. With more and more defenses using nickel packages to defend spread formations, Thomas' ability to line up in the slot to cover a third wideout will be considered valuable.
"I'm physical, versatile, and I played corner and safety," said Thomas when asked to describe his skill set. "I'm a hard worker. I'm not looking to come in and just sit back and watch (as a rookie). I'm looking to make an impact as soon as I get (to my team)."
As much as Thomas wants to help his NFL team, the desire toprovide forhis mother and father is what is ultimately driving him as he prepares for his first NFL season and his first NFL contract.
"They've been taking care of me all my life and it's just going to feel good to finally take that load off of their shoulders," he said. "Take care of them for once."