Cardinals’ Cameron Thomas a talking point among NFL executives

May 9, 2022, 11:34 AM
Cameron Thomas #99 of the San Diego State Aztecs rushes against the Boise State Broncos on November...
Cameron Thomas #99 of the San Diego State Aztecs rushes against the Boise State Broncos on November 26, 2021 at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California. (Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images)

The Arizona Cardinals added a trio of pass-rushing rookies in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Of the three, San Diego State’s Cameron Thomas was singled out by NFL executives for the right reasons when taking a look at Arizona’s draft class for ESPN.

Third-round defensive end Cameron Thomas (No. 87 overall) is in a class with high-end talent. The 2021 Mountain West defensive player of the year had 23.5 tackles for loss, second to Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr., who should be a top pick next year. And Thomas’ 61 QB pressures ranked fourth behind Anderson, Aidan Hutchinson (No. 2 overall pick) and Mika Tafua, who signed with Dallas as an undrafted free agent.

While Thomas was a defensive end in college, he considers himself an outside linebacker, a need the Cardinals had to address in the draft.

“I’ve always been an edge rusher,” Thomas told reporters after he was drafted. “I needed to do what my team needed me to do which was be an inside defender, nose tackle. Going into my sophomore year, I asked to go back out to the edge, but we weren’t going to fix anything that wasn’t broken so I stayed another season there.

“This past season, my junior season, I was able to make the transition back out there and I felt most natural out there. I think that’s what really made me pop off this year and all that preparation has added up.”

That doesn’t mean he’ll only work on the outside, however, as he has the tools, ability and experience to play along the inside if called upon.

The Cardinals can play Thomas all over, which helps on a D-line after all three projected starters — J.J. Watt, Rashard Lawrence and Zach Allen — missed games last year. Thomas generated 4.0 sacks with a 13.3% pressure rate as a defensive tackle as compared to 5.5 sacks on 11.4% pressure rate at defensive end.

No matter where he goes defensively, Thomas will have a veteran presence nearby in outside linebacker Markus Golden and defensive end J.J. Watt.

“I’m going to stick around them and learn everything I can from them, they are two veteran players that absolutely tear it up,” Thomas said. “To be able to learn from the best, I am just so pumped up.

“I modeled a lot of my game after J.J. Watt, especially at San Diego State, how much versatility I had. J.J. was another guy that I was able to learn a lot of inside and outside and just dominate. I’m hoping to do the same.”

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