In a league where the ball is being thrown more than ever NFL head coaches express the popular refrain that you can never have enough quarterbacks. With four and five wide looks becoming ever more prevalent in the league NFL defenses need a deep stable of talent to cover all opposing receiving weapons. That's largely why University at Buffalo cornerback Josh Thomas has as good a shot as any to hear his name called in New York in late April.
Thomas, a three-year starter at UB was the Bulls lock down corner, which explains why he logged just a pair of interceptions in his college career. Opponents often did not throw in his direction due to his blanket coverage.
"I like man coverage being out there on an island, playing bump and run being able to get into a receiver out of cover two," he said. "So I'm predominantly a cover one, cover two kind of guy."
The Cedar Hill, Texas native is also a prospect that has a more worldly perspective than most of the other NFL talent on hand at the NFL combine based on his experiences as a high schooler. Thomas' teammates noticed his more seasoned approach to life and attached what they felt was an appropriate nickname.
"They call me 'old man' and they've always called me 'old man' because on the field I'm a completely different person than I am off the field," he said. "Off the field I'm more laid back and to myself. I almost live a married life because I've lived with my girlfriend for two years and I'm really committed to her. I've been through a lot in my life so I was able to mature a little bit faster than others."
Thomas' home life as a teenager was a bit "complicated" as he put it and chose to escape what he felt was not a positive environment for him.
"I dealt with a lot as a child and growing up I turned towards church," said Thomas, who made missionary work his calling at 16. "I went to Managua, Nicaragua and I also went to Warsaw, Poland. I was a servant and I gave back and that really changed my life, my outlook on life. In America we're really blessed and really fortunate for what we have."
On the precipice of a Division I college career, Thomas again chose to escape from his Texas roots in choosing where he would play football.
"When I got back I needed to separate myself from a lot of the distractions that were happening at home and I went to Buffalo," he said. "I found out who I was as a person."
His coaching staff also found out early what he could offer as a cornerback.
In his freshman season Thomas was tabbed as the most frequent replacement for an injured Kendric Hawkins making four starts, and by season's end had 45 tackles, an interception and four pass breakups.
By his sophomore season he was entrenched as a starter and often assigned with covering the opponent's top receiving threat. His best game that season came against Missouri when he posted eight tackles, including a pair for loss and two forced fumbles.
With 47 games of experience including 24 starts, Thomas has the seasoning and playing style that NFL clubs are seeking.
"I'm aggressive and I'm not afraid to tackle," said Thomas, who had five forced fumbles in his career. "My presence on the field is known. Every receiver in front of me will respect me. I have the ideal confidence as a corner and I go out there and compete. I haven't created as many turnovers, but I've showed that I can be explosive and that I can make the plays."
Confident he can run in the low 4.4s, possibly high 4.3s, Thomas is determined to raise his stock with the opportunity before him at the NFL combine where he'll work out Tuesday.
"Champions are never satisfied and I'm a champion," said Thomas. "So I can't thank the NFL enough for inviting me. I'm really appreciative to be here."
As much as Thomas prepared himself for an NFL career he knows the combine is far from an arrival as a professional. Still, for a young man wise beyond his years and full of confidence, the long range plan looks to be attainable.
"I've been dreaming for this opportunity since I was a little boy," he said. "To be here my dream is unfolding. You know my dream is going to be accomplished once I'm six years in the league and sustained a position. So I'm really looking forward to cracking a starting lineup."