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Is the Rams newest offensive lineman, Zachary Thomas, a hidden gem?

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By: Venie Randy Soares

Ex-San Diego State swing lineman Zachary Thomas joins the L.A. Rams | Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Socal boy comes home from the Windy City

It has been a revolving door for the Los Angeles Rams offensive line with 13 different players having logged snaps and only right tackle Rob Havenstein not missing any time. Overall, it hasn’t just been injuries hobbling the front five, mediocre play has been the rule, rather than the exception. Pro Football Focus has only one Ram with a score over 70.0, backup guard Chandler Brewer.

Trying to fill the void of enough healthy bodies to satisfy the offensive line room, L.A. poached guard/tackle Zachary Thomas off the Chicago Bears Practice Squad. At first blush, it may seem to be a “any port in a storm” type of roster addition, but a little deeper look shows an athletic and edgy rookie with a developmental upside.

Thomas is a native Carlsbad, just 90 minutes down the way from SoFi Stadium. He was drafted by the Monsters of the Midway out of San Diego State in the sixth round at #186 of the 2022 NFL Draft. He’s an older rookie, 24 years old, taking advantage of the extra college season provided by the COVID-19 upheaval. His younger brother Cameron, a SDSU teammate and highly-rated defensive end, was chosen in the draft as well. He was taken by the Arizona Cardinals in the third round.

In his six college seasons, Thomas logged 41 starts, split between left and right tackle. He also had two starts at guard and filled in there early in his career. His first season (2016) was a red shirt, he saw action as a backup and on special teams in 2017 and earned a starting role at guard in 2018, before injuring a knee after three games and missing the remainder of the season. He took over as a starter in 2019 and remained in that capacity for his final three seasons.

He was named second team All-Mountain West conference in 2020, allowing just two sacks and four pressures on the season and backed it up in his final season with first team All-MWC honors. In 2021, Thomas was also named to the Pro Football Focus (PFF), Phil Steele Magazine, Lindy’s Sports and Athlon Sports preseason first team. According to the SDSU official football website, he only gave up only three sacks and eight pressures. PFF graded him as the 16th best overall lineman (87.2) and 18th best run blocker.

Thomas had an excellent NFL Combine. He measured in at 6’ 5” and 308 lbs. with 10 1/4” hands and arms a shade under 34”. In the speed/agility drills he started with a 4.96 forty that included a stellar 1.65 10 yard split. His time in the 3cone was 7.40 and 4.65 in the shuttle. On the explosion side, he leapt 8’ 11” in the broad and a 22 1/2” vertical. He added 21 reps on the bench. His Relative Athletic Score is 8.97. Lance Zierlein at nfl.com gave a 5.99 draft grade.

Since Thomas is a mid-season addition ( November 18) from an opposing practice squad, he went directly onto the Rams 53 man roster. He was a healthy scratch for the Saints game. So what do the Rams receive, other than a good college player with plus athleticism?

Going back to my own 2022 draft notes, I thought he was a good fit for the Rams zone run schemes. Good footwork, smooth mover both laterally and to the next level, sticks well, stays with run blocks, and is a good finisher. Not a total mauler, but an aggressive guy who is always looking to work, right through the whistle.

Most draft experts echo that his best professional move would be shifting inside to guard, as the Bears did after drafting him. He was also projected to need to upgrade his lower body and play strength. He has a pro body, just needs the pro muscle. He looks relatively lean out of his pads, particularly his lower half, and has room for more good mass.

His college tape shows that he stays low, wide, and loose on run blocks, helping Thomas keep his agility, balance, and leverage. He freely turns and moves on seal, chip, and pull blocking. When he does get to the second level, he needs to strike under control and not lunge.

His pass block technique and play strength needs work. He is capable of setting an anchor and moves well enough to react and help out on stunts/loops/blitzes. But like many young linemen, his pad level can get too high making him lean/reach and lose leverage. Although he could get away with it in college, NFL defensive linemen will exploit it.

Can Zachary Thomas help the Rams now?

I guess that all depends on how strict you are on the definition of help. In an upright world, Thomas would be working hard on improving technique and play strength. But could he really be much worse than, say, Bobby Evans?

Nothing is going to save the Rams this year. I would certainly respect, and expect, the team to keep playing hard and not mail it in for the rest of the year. But it is certainly time to start trimming dead wood and adding talent for 2023, even on the bottom half of the roster. Zachary Thomas is an upside developmental project. He will probably never reach All-Pro grade, but with hard work and grooming, he has the athletic traits, demeanor, and positional versatility to add roster value at a low cost.

Originally posted on Turf Show Times – All Posts