Looking to mark the sixth consecutive year a San Diego State Aztec has been taken in the NFL draft, Cameron Thomas has been the best-kept secret in college football for years on end. In a program under head coach Brady Hoke—whose 11-2 finish this fall saw them earn a spot in the Mountain West title game—Thomas’ leadership and production for the No. 19 Aztecs have introduced one of the upcoming draft’s biggest risers.
A candidate for the Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year, don’t be fooled by the helmet decal. Thomas is and has been one of the top defenders in the entire country. Also a semifinalist for this year’s Bednarik Award, given annually to college football’s top defender, the accolades and notoriety surrounding Thomas have begun to swamp the pre-draft circuit. As names in Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson and Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux have drawn all the praise as the poster child for the EDGE class moving into the spring, a simple click on Thomas’ film tells you all you need to know on who No. 99 is for Hoke’s Aztecs.
A former defensive tackle turned edge rusher prior to the 2020 season, Thomas’ production draws you to his talent, but his elite versatility and sneaky athleticism along the defensive front present an awfully intriguing pro projection moving forward. A prospect who wins quickly with intelligent violence at the point of attack, his ability to work and jump inside/out around opposing linemen was ever apparent in his film this fall.
While his initial collegiate success saw him work within the interior as a lighter 1 and 3-tech below 270 pounds, his film against Nevada, Fresno State, and Utah are some of the most impressive snaps I’ve seen of any defensive lineman in the country. A TFL monster, where his 20.0 ranked 15th in the nation, save the “it’s not a Power 5 program” and “the competition wasn’t up to snuff” takes for someone else. You compete against the players in front of you, and when microscoping Thomas, he’s been as impressive a defender in CFB.
Faced with double and triple teams throughout his career, where offenses would also keep tight ends and running backs in to attempt to limit his impact, it really didn’t matter what opposing coordinators would try to scheme against him. Thomas has made a habit of setting up camp in opposing backfields the last three campaigns.
Just like Hutchinson, where you pick your poison on where he aligns as he’ll beat you inside and then line up at 9-tech and bull rush you into the sideline, Thomas is a Swiss army knife who’s shown the ability to win consistently, win quickly, and dominate his man from whistle to whistle. Where he’s most impressive, however, is his hand usage and countering ability against larger offensive linemen.
Against Utah, an offensive line that allowed one sack to Thibodeaux in their blowout of Oregon in the Pac-12 title game, Thomas amassed nearly a handful of quarterback hurries, six tackles, and a TFL—aside from his consistent win rate in 1-1 matchups lined up outside the shoulder of the tackle. When faced against lineman who shade the outside to avoid being beaten with his speed around the edge, Thomas is a magician who’s able to mirror his feet with his hands, selling the outside rush then quickly planting his foot in the ground to swim and jump to the inside, leaving the offensive lineman behind.
An edge presence whose toolbox is never-ending with a variety of ways to push into the backfield, Thomas is quickly making his way up league-wide draft boards. One of the most consistent edge defenders the nation has had the last few seasons, his consistent pop on film has been some of the best tape I’ve seen this cycle.