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Monday, February 11, 2013
Noles 2013 snapshot: Matthew Thomas

By Corey Dowlar

With national signing day now beyond us, NoleNation takes a closer look at the next crop of Seminoles.

Vitals: Outside linebacker Matthew Thomas, 6-foot-3, 205 pounds.

Committed: Feb. 6, 2013.

ESPN.com grade: 90, five-star prospect.

ESPN.com rankings: No. 1 outside linebacker in the country, No. 6 player in the Southeast region, No. 4 prospect in the state of Florida and the No. 6 player in the country.

Picked Florida State over: Miami and Southern Cal.

State of the position: Florida State came into the 2013 class in need of linebackers. Nick Moody and Vince Williams depart after exhausting their eligibility leaving two open slots, but the argument could be made that the need existed prior to this recruiting cycle. Christian Jones returns as arguably their biggest recruit after turning down the lure of leaving for the NFL early. Telvin Smith is back as maybe the most dynamic player of the group. Reggie Northrup, Terrance Smith and Nigel Terrell are back, but with limited experience. Ukeme Eligwe, too, is in the running for playing time after taking a redshirt in his first season on campus.

ESPN.com scouting report: Thomas is a versatile and highly disruptive front-seven defender who still possesses a lot of upside. He shows the ability to make disruptive plays inside, outside and with his hand on the ground at defensive end. Tall with good length and raw strength, he needs bulk and improved power from hips and core. He's quick off the ball and flashes explosive playing speed aided by a long, accelerating stride and high motor. Utilizes speed, quick reactions and length to make plays sideline-to-sideline and disrupt out on the perimeter. He's difficult to outflank outside, but can also fill between the tackles with downhill pop and explosion despite playing high at times. Better pursuing vertically than laterally, but Thomas is athletic and agile enough to pursue through traffic. Adjusts athletically on the move and makes quick, downhill reads between the tackles without indecision, but he can improve his diagnosing skills on misdirection and the reading of keys better. Still, he can clear traffic demonstrating very good short and long pursuit effort. At this time, he lacks the dominant playing strength to stalemate at the point of attack consistently early in college career. Flashes the ability to wrap up and knock back as a tackler and he will drag down ball carriers from behind with his strength and long reach. He does tend to leave feet and lacks great power through his legs and overall lower base, though. His best asset may his ability to get after the quarterback and create havoc as an edge rusher and outside blitzer. Quick off the snap, he consistently beats blockers to the set point. Makes himself thin and attacks half the blocker's body while utilizing arm length to stay clean. He demonstrates the balance and agility to squeeze the pocket. Should offer game plan flexibility through alignment with his ability to pressure. He does need more experience in coverage. Thomas can cross over for depth, and he covers ground and has ball skills but is more effective rushing the passer than dropping. At the next level, we see the high-upside Thomas as a strong side OLB but he could likely develop into a Jack type OLB who specializes as a two-point pass rusher. He is a very talented, although at times raw defender, with a lot of tools to develop.

Expected impact: The chances of Thomas taking a redshirt, aside from some unexpected injury, are next to nothing. His range, speed and instincts will get him on the field early, and he has the potential to be an absolute nightmare on special teams. Florida State loves to use its rangy linebackers on coverage teams, so it wouldn't be a stretch to pencil him in on those. Ahead on the scoreboard, and ahead of the chains, Pruitt's defense could send in Thomas to rush the quarterback off the edge where he could really close down passing lanes with his long arms. Whether he fully grasps the playbook in the first year or not is the question. If he gets an understanding of his assignments quickly, and shows the new defensive coaches he can be counted on, they will no doubt want him patrolling the line of scrimmage from his linebacker position as early as next year.