We have reached that point in the pre-draft process where relative unknown prospects begin to emerge as intriguing NFL hopefuls. Whether it is due to lack of exposure, questionable scheme fits, or skepticism surrounding their competition, these players typically begin to surface during elaborate film breakdowns, or in some cases, with strong showings at the NFL Scouting Combine. Arkansas State defensive tackle Kevin Thurmon is among the forgotten that will look to defy the odds and arise amidst the plethora of talent in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Who is Kevin Thurmon?
Though the lane ultimately led him to the doorsteps of a career at the next level, Thurmon undoubtedly took the road less traveled to the 2020 NFL Draft.
Originally committing to Ball State University in 2015, Thurmon arrived on campus as a highly touted recruit. After playing in 20 games (four starts) across his two seasons in Muncie, Indiana — where he contributed 34 tackles (6.5 for loss) and 4.5 sacks — the twitchy defensive tackle elected to transfer to Arkansas State for his remaining two seasons of eligibility. Forced to sit out the 2017 campaign due to NCAA transfer rules, Thurmon’s plans of replicating the success of his breakout sophomore season were temporarily put on hold.
The 6-foot-3, 298-pound defensive lineman returned to prominence with a stellar showing the following season. In 13 games, Thurmon compiled 63 tackles (12 for loss) and 3.5 sacks for the Red Wolves, earning himself All-Sun Belt Honorable Mention honors as a result.
Thurmon’s final campaign, in what many anticipated to be a strong finish to a productive college career, began with some early-season adversity. In a Week 4 bout with Southern Illinois, the ascending senior sustained a broken left hand, prompting surgery and a three-week absence from the gridiron. Making his long-awaited return against a formidable Louisiana-Lafayette team, Thurmon would have to overcome more than just a cast on his left hand, however. Shortly after losing Thurmon due to injury, Arkansas State transitioned to a 3-4 defensive alignment. Thurmon, a penetrating interior rusher, was now being asked to kick outside and anchor as a defensive end.
Thurmon adapted admirably to the mid-season adjustment, as three of his 4.5 sacks came after making the transition. All told, the athletic defensive lineman played in ten games, registering 54 tackles (7.5 for loss), 4.5 sacks, and a forced fumble to cap off his collegiate career. His standout play earned him second-team All-Sun Belt honors, and an invite to the SPIRAL Tropical Bowl, where he wasted little time making an impression in front of the contingent of talent evaluators on hand.
Kevin Thurmon’s NFL Outlook
In today’s NFL, versatility reigns supreme, and players in the mold of Thurmon are in high demand.
While the vast majority of his success — and experience — has come as a penetrating defensive tackle in a 4-3 defensive scheme, Thurmon showed remarkable strength holding the point of attack on the edge in a 3-4 alignment. In fact, he adjusted to his new role so seamlessly last season that one would be hard-pressed to believe he started out as an inside rusher. His explosive burst off the line of scrimmage, active hands, pad level awareness, and a broad spectrum of pass rush moves allows him to play any position on the defensive line. Thurmon’s innate ability to adapt and manufacture production in a new scheme — midseason, nonetheless — should be taken into account during the evaluation process.
A common misconception regarding the Sun Belt Conference is the perceived lack of competition stigma. In a conference loaded with next-level talent, Thurmon was tasked with tangling with arguably its strongest unit over the past two seasons: the offensive line. The Sun Belt Conference’s exceptional stable of linemen included the likes of Kevin Dotson, Robert Hunt, and Victor Johnson. Dotson, of course, was a 2019 first-team All-American, while Hunt was a Reese’s Senior Bowl invite.
Whichever team ultimately lands Thurmon will be getting a pro-ready player that has thrived in multiple schemes at the collegiate level. As impressive as he was at various points of his career, the Chicago native has yet to scratch the surface of his true potential. Surrounding him with NFL coaches and savvy veterans will be paramount in unlocking those tantalizing capabilities.