NAME: Juan Thornhill
JERSEY: No. 21
RECRUITMENT RATING: 3-star
WT: 195 lbs
Range – Lack of instincts is disappointing at times. Doesn’t show the type of range in deep zone that would get excited about, despite being able to open up and run. To me, having top-notch range means you start early in your break on the ball and finish fast. Thornhill really doesn’t do either at a high level, but he’s mobile and smart enough to cover hash-to-hash for you.
Ball Skills – Will get up and challenge in the air with length and strong hands. Experience at corner helps him find the ball with his back to it. Won’t get bodied off the ball in the air. Not especially instinctive nor explosive to close on the ball quickly. Needs floated or touch passes to unlock ball skills, won’t make plays on every type of throw.
Man Coverage – Might be limited to tight ends and bigger slots, but has technique and patience not to open early and give up undue separation to those types. More explosive route runners could expose his lack of short-area quickness. Burst from off coverage is limited. Not the type to challenge throwing windows underneath, may always give up some separation out of breaks when rolled up in coverage.
Fluidity/Agility – Not stiff persay, just a one speed player without great change-of-direction or explosive traits. Feet look stuck in mud at times when asked to alter path to the ball or get out of a break sharply. Limited in mirror-and-match ability due to average athletic traits, which explains the move to safety.
Tackling – Low target area as a tackler, good angles and velocity to chop down runners around the ankles, but will face some runners who are ready and step out of his efforts. Needs to elevate target area a bit to drive through contact on his finishes, minimal hitting power currently. Almost always squares up his opponent and comes in under control as a tackler. Not a wild tackler at all. Not a big hitter either though.
Run Defense – Smart and takes excellent angles to the football. Gets through his keys quickly, and even played in the box a good bit as a result. Lack of explosiveness, hitting power and stack-shed ability limits impact around the line of scrimmage as a run defender. At his best running the alley, which he does extremely well.
Route Recognition – Student of the playbook and tape study guru. Puts his time in and understands how routes are developing around him. Smart player who took to safety like he’d played it his whole life this past season. Recognizes patterns and is very rarely fooled or out of position.
Versatility – Has played everywhere you can possible play on defense outside of the defensive line. Often used at linebacker, playing in the box and reading keys to come downhill against the run, although I wouldn’t say that’s his strongest suit. Played cornerback for a couple of years, has seen time in the slot as well. Consistently reliable in deep coverage as well.
Competitive Toughness – Would not call him overly physical in his playing style, clearly does not like taking on blockers and often physically backs down from even opposing wide receivers. Will chip in on gang tackles. Known as an extremely hard worker at Virginia, a leader who knows the defense well and is a top communicator.
Athleticism/Size – Excellent size and length for the safety position, makes him capable of several different roles. Added 15 pounds this past offseason to get to 210 so he could play safety. Athleticism is average-above average in just about every way, perhaps due to some of the added weight. Don’t think his speed or agility will be anything to write home about. Reportedly posted a vertical jump of 40.5 inches and had 6.59-second three-cone this summer. The second number would blow my mind if he ran it at the Combine.
BEST TRAIT – Route Recognition
WORST TRAIT – Short-area quickness/burst
RED FLAGS – None
A three-year starter/four-year contributor, Thornhill’s experience is evident in the measured, high-IQ way he approaches the game. He’s smart and disciplined, but at times his methodical style is too slow to make the kind of impact plays the top safety prospects in college football are making.
Given that he is new to the position, if Thornhill had great athletic traits I might get on board with believing in his upside, but I think he’ll be limited in any coverage role he sees in the NFL, while not bringing enough physicality or instincts to thrive around the box. He’s a capable starter at the next level, but I’m not sure the playmaking ability is there to be a particularly desirable prospect in the upcoming class.
Coverage Spacing –He doesn’t have elite range, but he’s seemingly always in the hip pocket of defenders on vertical shots down the field (middle of field). Does well in underneath coverage as well to sink and buzz into position to take away lanes from underneath.
Acceleration –Pretty modest, doesn’t show a lot of explosiveness or ability to spring into action quickly and undercut throws when he’s the isolated defender in zone coverage. His straight line speed is effective, just not when he’s forced to alter angles.
Tackling –Like his pop through the pads, although his aiming point is pretty low and he’ll miss some tackle challenges as a result. Lack of wingspan is partly to blame. Takes good angles in pursuit and does well to arrive to the football well balanced.
Zone Coverage Skills –Super smart. Love how well he processes the action, particularly in deeper portions of the field. His peripheral vision is really sharp and he’s rarely taken off guard by developing routes. His anticipation helps mask for modest quickness and agility.
Ball Skills –Nose for the football is top shelf. Really does a nice job to sniff out targets and get involved at the catch point. Extension skills are present to high point the football and shows good timing when testing his reach to extend for the ball.
Competitive Toughness –He’s pretty stout, although there’s a bit of inconsistency with his tackling that is cause for concern. He’s a really good cut down tackler and can deliver pop. Fights through contact in the box well enough and shows good, stout anchor at the top of route stems.
Flexibility –Wouldn’t call him stiff, as he can hinge and get his hips around to drop out of his stance. But he’s a tick less dynamic when his hips aren’t aligned with his pads. Shows good extension skills to attack the football in coverage.
Feet/Change of Direction –Footwork is pretty effective, shows patience in coverage to not bail suddenly and hang him self out to dry. Doesn’t show a lot of power or burst in hard breaks and as a result can give soft coverage trying to work back into the hip of receivers.
Man Coverage Skills –Exposure as a boundary CB serves him well. He can drop down into the nickel and lock up TEs effectively. Has good level of combativeness to try to re-route receivers but turn and run skills are only modest. Won’t match up favorably against agile receivers.
Versatility – Kind of a weird hybrid: he’s effective in the nickel but only against certain match-ups. Will play effective free safety but not when he’s isolated and tasked with ranging sideline to sideline. Three down player, just match-up specific.
BEST TRAIT – Deep Coverage
WORST TRAIT – Linear Speed
BEST FILM – Miami (2018)
WORST FILM – NC State (2018)
RED FLAGS – None
Juan Thornhill projects favorably as a Free Safety in a Cover-3 system. Thornhill doesn’t necessarily have the kind of burst or range to play a lot of Cover-1 as a single high option, but he’s terrific with his spacing and spatial awareness to transition between routes and ensure he’s in position to challenge the football. Thornhill has value in the shallow areas as well thanks to his experience as a CB and can be used in pressure packages in man to man. An intelligent player and starter.
A two-year starter for the Cavs, Thornhill has experience at both safety and corner but will spend his final season in Charlottesville at safety where he best projects to the next level. In terms of recovery speed, foot quickness and fluidity Thornhill has some limitations when evaluating him strictly at cornerback in the NFL.
Thornhill excels in coverage from a variety of techniques. He has a natural feel in zone for coverage spacing and working into throwing windows while also effective in man coverage where his length and physicality will serve him well working against tight ends and bigger slots. There are some matchups in the slot, mainly against quicker receivers, that could be problematic for Thornhill in man coverage but he has the physical traits to lineup with flexed tight ends and big-bodied possession receivers.
With seven interceptions and 19 pass breakups over his last 24 games, Thornhill is disruptive at the catch point and features strong ball skills. He does well to elevate and compete at the catch point, particularly when he can play forward on the ball as opposed to with his back to the line of scrimmage.
Thornhill is a strong tackler and plays the game with a physical demeanor as he works through contact. He has the contact power expected for his size. He can win near the line of scrimmage and offers the traits needed to function as a box safety.
Stepping into the Quin Blanding role as a senior, Thornhill is an ascending prospect with the upside to be one of the top defensive playmakers in the ACC as he solidifies his draft stock. Showcasing a more versatile skill set with a touch more athletic ability would serve him well.