Hugh Thornton Scouting Report: NFL Outlook for Illinois Guard

Jon Dove@!/Jon_Dove42Contributor IApril 12, 2013

Jan 26, 2013; Mobile, AL, USA; Senior Bowl north squad offensive lineman Hugh Thornton of Illinois (72) prior to kickoff of a game against the Senior Bowl south squad at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Hugh Thornton

Indianapolis Colts

Third Round, 86th Pick

Illinois' Hugh Thornton is a mid-round prospect who has upside at the next level. He mainly played offensive tackle during his final college season, but projects as a guard in the NFL. His versatility is one of the keys to his draft stock.

However, his natural ability and aggressive style are two reasons why he has a bright future. Thornton comes off as a prospect who'll work hard to find success.

Strengths Weaknesses
+ Experience at Left Tackle - Limited Foot Speed
+ Awareness - Outside Hand Placement
+ Effort - Lacks an Explosive First Step off the Ball


Height- 6’3”            Weight- 320 pounds             Arm Length- 34 1/8”       40 time- 5.11

Intangibles/Character: Thornton was named Second-team All-Big 10 in his final year at Illinois. He finished his career with 35 career starts at both the tackle and guard positions.

System: Thornton is built to fit either a zone or power blocking system. The fact that Illinois used him at left tackle points to the type of athleticism he possesses. His use of angles is one of the strengths to his game, as Thornton excels at sealing the defender from the play.

The one area he must improve to fit nicely into a zone scheme is the placement of his hands. This image shows Thornton’s tendency to get his hands on the outside shoulder of the defender. He’ll struggle controlling his opponent’s movements and dealing with holding penalties if he continues this trend.

Pass-Blocking: Because of his experience at left tackle, Thornton projects as an above-average pass-blocker from the guard position. He does a great job getting a wide base, maintaining a low pad level and keeping his hands out in front.

The first clip below shows Thornton playing with balance and keeping his opponent out of the backfield. However, the second clip shows why he doesn’t have much of a future at left tackle in the NFL. Thornton just doesn’t have the foot speed to hold up against the speed rushers at the next level.

Above, Thornton is too worried about protecting the edge that he brings his feet together. This makes him susceptible to inside counter moves and a bull rush. College pass-rushers don’t have the same type of savvy as NFL players.

An NFL veteran would easily take advantage of Thornton’s shortcomings if he was asked to play left tackle.

Run-Blocking: Thornton plays an aggressive style of football that helps him find success in the running game. He consistently works to the whistle looking to put his opponent on his back. His raw strength and the fact he keeps his feet moving also helps.

The one issue is facing Thornton is his lack of a natural bend off the line of scrimmage. He has a tendency to fire off the ball too high which limits his leverage. This problem isn’t noticeable in pass protection because Thornton has more room to work.

Blocking in Space: Thornton will struggle to handle the quicker NFL pass-rushers, but his use of angles gives him some hope. This doesn’t mean he can play left tackle in the NFL. However, it gives him a chance to fill in at right tackle from time to time.

Hand Fighting: As mentioned earlier, Thornton needs to do a better job getting inside hand placement. NFL referees will not hesitate to call him for a holding penalty. However, he does have the upper-body strength to Velcro to the defender if he gains that inside placement.

Recovery: Thornton is a decent athlete, but doesn’t have great chance-of-direction ability. He struggles adjusting to inside counter moves, especially when employed by a pass-rusher who’s an edge threat. His good lower-body strength helps him reset if the defender gets a good initial jolt.

Technique: For the most part, Thornton plays with sound technique. He does need to do a better job keeping his hands inside the frame of the defender. I mentioned several times above how this could become a major issue at the next level.

The other area Thornton needs to work on is keeping his pad level down off the ball. He do a better job of firing off the ball and maintaining leverage.

Future Role/Versatility: Despite the guard position being the most likely future for Thornton, he also has some potential to play right tackle. His college experience at left tackle provided him with the opportunity to work in space.

The issue is the he’ll struggle to be an average right tackle, but he boasts the potential to be an above-average guard.

Draft Projection: Late fourth round