by J.T. Toth
Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated.
At Draft 412, the NFL draft talk never ends. We will keep you ready for the next set of gridiron stars—from today and all the way until draft night 2024. We will bring you mock drafts, player profiles, individual team needs, and everything else you may need related to the 2024 NFL Draft.
Today’s Spotlight - Clemson, Defensive End, Xavier Thomas
Name- Xavier Thomas
HT/WT- 6’2” 245 lbs.
Home – Florence, SC
Xavier Thomas was one of the highest ranked players in his recruiting class of 2018. 247Sports had him rated as the no. 3 overall prospect in the nation and the no. 1 defensive end overall. He played 3 seasons at Wilson High School in South Carolina before transferring to the IMG Academy in Florida. He helped IMG to a 9-0 record and no. 2 national ranking with MaxPreps during his senior season. After being named a USA Today National Defensive Player of the Year finalist, he was invited to Nike’s the Opening in 2017. Thomas selected the University of Clemson over several other scholarship offers.
Thomas wasted no time once he got to Clemson and became a big contributor to a dominating Tigers' defense. He played in all 15 games in a backup rotational role and collected 43 tackles, 10.5 TFL and 3.5 sacks. He was named a consensus first-team Freshman All-American after his productive campaign.
In 2020, Thomas initially intended to play only 4 games and redshirt after complications with Covid-19 and strep throat, but ended up playing 7 games upon the NCAA’s blanket of eligibility waiver for 2020. In 2021, Thomas played 12 games, including 10 starts and was named 3rd Team All-ACC. He tallied 27 tackles, 5.5 TFL and 3 sacks.
During the 2022 season, Thomas was limited to only 3 games due to a foot injury. He was off to a productive start before the injury and had 4 tackles, 2 sacks and a forced fumble for Clemson.
This season, Thomas made 11 starts for Clemson and showed no ill effects from the foot injury, collecting 28 tackles, 3 sacks and 1 forced fumble for the Tigers.
Thomas has an explosive first step off the snap and the speed to beat an offensive tackle around the edge or beat him with power on a stunt or misdirection between the gaps. He is a fluid athlete with the lateral ability to drop back in coverage and run with running backs or tight ends in routes. He changes direction well on counters or runs away from his side, and has the athleticism to make plays sideline-to-sideline. He plays with a high energy throughout the game and can play every down, regardless of down and distance.
Since being a 5-star prospect, Thomas has gotten by on his pure athleticism alone. His techniques and mechanics have never been honed in or improved and he is going to have to show the NFL brass that he is willing to do the work. He is a prospect who never reached his full potential and he is now going to be a 24-year-old draft pick. He’s good at chasing down the ball carrier but needs to do a better job of finishing his tackles. He also needs to be patient when he breaks down to tackle and attack the runner instead of clutching and grabbing. At 6’2” and 245 lbs., he is built more like a linebacker than he is a defensive end and he will be one of those “tweeners” that a team will have to decide where he can best be used.
Malcolm Koonce is a solid NFL comparison for Thomas. Koonce was a 2021 3rd round draft pick out of Buffalo who was an exceptional athlete who lacked the measurables. Thomas will not go as high as Koonce did, but has the ceiling of Koonce going forward. Koonce spent his first couple of seasons battling injuries but has broken out this year for the Raiders. He has shown improvement with his techniques and has helped his sack totals in 2023. Thomas has high end athleticism and that cannot be overlooked.
Sideline to sideline
Explosive 1st step
Xavier Thomas is a former 5-star recruit who has not performed up to the levels that many believed he could. His ceiling is still very high and under the right tutelage, he could become an effective starting defensive end in the NFL.
Draft 412 Projection- 5th or 6th round