Huitzilopochtli was the god of sun and war, worshipped by generations of Aztecs. This generation of San Diego State Aztecs has been led by Cameron Thomas, a 2022 NFL Draft defensive end prospect who has waged war on opposing offenses for his entire college career. Dubbed “the Aidan Hutchinson of the Mountain West” — and earning comparison to J.J. Watt — Thomas’ scouting report reveals a dangerous combatant with first-round potential.
Cameron Thomas NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Defensive end
- School: San Diego State
- Current Year: Redshirt junior
- Height: 6’5″
- Weight: 270 pounds
Cameron Thomas Scouting Report
Comparisons are not something to take lightly. Lofty comparisons, like Aidan Hutchinson and J.J. Watt, hold a player up to an almost unattainable high standard. The Michigan DE has established himself as an early first-round prospect with sensational play this season. Watt rose up draft boards during 2011 and went on to dominate in the NFL. These are serious stars that the San Diego State defensive end is being aligned with.
Nevertheless, it’s immediately apparent upon turning on the tape for Thomas’ scouting report, that we’re dealing with a special player. You don’t have to search for the good reps, the San Diego State DE is easily distinguishable from his peers on every down. But what is it about his scouting report that makes Thomas such an impressive talent in this class?
When you turn on the tape, it’s hard to believe that Thomas arrived at San Diego State at 235 pounds. Sure, lots of prospects go through a physical transformation. However, at 6’5″ and 270 pounds, Thomas looks like a full-grown man at the line of scrimmage. I’ve nicknamed fellow NFL Draft defensive end prospect George Karlaftis “the Grecian Goliath,” but Thomas has an equally imposing frame.
Behind his imposing physical frame lies an incredibly powerful athlete. One of the first things you notice when watching Thomas go to work is the ease with which he moves people at the point of attack. This is evident across the line, whether rushing from a wide alignment or engaging from the numerous spots he’s played across the defensive formation.
Powerful, athletic, and technically refined
On multiple occasions, I witnessed him walk an offensive tackle backward with just one arm while using the other to disrupt the passing lane. This is not only the result of brute strength but also due to incredibly powerful hands. His punch is devastating, and with lightning-fast handwork, there are very few offensive linemen who have the ability to protect themselves from the San Diego State DE. Furthermore, he’s extremely adept at disengaging from blockers in a timely manner in order to stop the run behind the line.
When you combine his hand technique with his impressive athleticism, Thomas is a difficult man to stop. He wins with unerring ease, whether attacking outside or on the interior. He can go through, around, and even in between blockers. For a big man, Thomas makes himself skinny to knife through gaps with apparent ease. He regularly attracts double-team blocks, and they regularly fail.
Thomas has an impressive array of pass-rush tools. He showcases a potent bull rush, a swim move that could carry him across an ocean in a hurry, and he has double swipe and rip moves at his disposal. However, more impressive than simply possessing these moves is that he is extremely efficient at combining moves to beat his man.
I feel comfortable in saying that Thomas is one of the most exciting defensive end prospects that I’ve studied in the 2022 NFL Draft class. In a deep class, that isn’t an easy accomplishment. Yet, the San Diego State DE makes everything look easy. He’s explosive, athletic, powerful, big, long, and technically savvy. He’s the real deal, and there’s no reason why he can’t penetrate the first round come April.
Areas for improvement
Thomas is an impressive 2022 NFL Draft prospect who will only rise up boards with an impressive performance at the Reese’s Senior Bowl. It’s difficult to find serious flaws in the San Diego State defensive end’s scouting report. However, there are some areas where he doesn’t quite match up to the very top tier of his pass-rush peers.
In the games studied, Thomas’ effectiveness appeared to wane towards the end of the game. There may be mitigating factors that I’m unaware of, but it could also point to a lack of stamina.
While Thomas is an exceptional pass rusher, he doesn’t possess elite bend of a Kayvon Thibodeaux in this NFL Draft class. His bend is sufficient, and given his size, you could even go as far as to say excellent. But in an NFL landscape trending towards bendier edge players, that might halt his ascent up the class.
As a pass rusher, Thomas creates a lot of pressure. However, he hasn’t been hyper-productive during his career. Sometimes he can arrive on the scene a second too late, especially when rushing around the outside track. That slight delay can make a big difference, especially at the next level.
Thomas’ Player Profile
With mere months until the 2022 NFL Draft, Thomas is rapidly rising up boards as a potential first-round selection. His outstanding performances and production for San Diego State have begun to earn him national attention. However, the spotlight hasn’t always shone brightly on the Carlsbad, California, native. In fact, he was just a three-star recruit in the 2018 class, barely making it into the top 2,000 players in the nation.
Furthermore, he sat outside the top 100 players at his position. Although positional versatility is a blessing in the draft process, when you bounce from position to position early in your high school career, it can dilute your stock and blur your profile. Thomas had played on either side of the trenches in youth football, as an LB early at Carlsbad High, and finishing his final two years splitting time between TE and DE.
At 6’5″ and 235 pounds, Thomas didn’t have the physical profile of a game-wrecking college defensive end. Additionally, with just 9.5 sacks and 5 tackles for loss during his junior and senior seasons, he didn’t have the production of an elite high school recruit either.
Despite this, he received offers from Navy and Wyoming, with further interest from some Pac-12 schools. However, a family connection helped bring about his eventual destination. Older brother Zachary was an offensive tackle at San Diego State. Having spent some time around the program, it made perfect sense to make Brookshire Street home when he got the call.
Thomas’ career at San Diego State
Undersized, Thomas had to undergo some physical development on arrival at San Diego State. As a result, he redshirted his freshman season in 2018. Still, he traveled with the team to three games and saw special-teams snaps in the Frisco Bowl. All the while, he was polishing his craft against his brother during practice sessions.
Thomas exploded onto the scene as a redshirt freshman in 2019. He started the season opener against Weber State at nose tackle — his first of 12 starts that year. At DT, Thomas made plays against UCLA. But it was a then-career-high 6 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks, against New Mexico State that opened the eyes of Aztec fans to the impressive game wrecker that was within their midst.
Thomas equaled those 6 tackles in two further games in 2019, tallying 49 total tackles on the year. In that first season at San Diego State, Thomas tallied more tackles for loss (9.5) than in his previous two years of high school football.
With 13 QB hurries, 5.5 sacks, and 2 pass breakups, Thomas was named the team’s Defensive Lineman of the Year. Furthermore, he received national accolades as a second-team Freshman All-American.
Pass-rush production leads to accolades and national attention
Thomas was also named first-team All-Mountain West, an accolade he’d repeat in his redshirt sophomore campaign. In doing so, he became only the second San Diego State player to earn the accolade multiple times. In the disrupted 2020 season, he only played in eight games. However, Thomas logged 9.5 TFL, 4 sacks, and an astonishing 14 QB hurries. In a standout game against Colorado, he led the team with 14 tackles, 4 QB hurries, 3 TFL, and 1 sack.
As a result of his 2020 performances, Thomas began his redshirt junior season on multiple watchlists. Yet, even those preseason expectations were obliterated by his devastating 2021 season form.
He racked up 3.5 tackles for loss against New Mexico State in the season opener, a feat he’d repeat against Nevada. An unstoppable juggernaut, the San Diego State DE registered a tackle for loss in all but one game. He also had a sack in all but four of the Aztecs’ 14 games, ending the year with 20.5 TFL and 10.5 sacks.
For the third consecutive season, Thomas earned first-team All-Mountain West honors. In his final season for the Aztecs, he was also named the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year. In an often-overlooked conference, the San Diego State defensive end caught the national eye, earning an invite to the 2022 Reese’s Senior Bowl. It would be no surprise to see him blow the competition away in Mobile, further enhancing his chances of a first-round selection in the 2022 NFL Draft.