Former Clemson guard Brandon Thomas, widely expected to be an early-round choice in May's NFL draft, suffered a torn ACL while training last week and will be out of action for an indeterminate amount of time.
Adam Caplan of ESPN first reported Thomas' injury, which has not yet been confirmed by his camp:
G Brandon Thomas (Clemson), who is rated as one of the top interior OLs for this year's draft, suffered a torn ACL last week, per source.— Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) April 7, 2014
Thomas suffered the injury while working out last week.— Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) April 7, 2014
Thomas, a Clemson co-captain who was named to the first-team All-ACC team, was one of the fastest rising names among interior linemen. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller had Thomas going No. 29 to the New England Patriots in his latest mock draft, a surprise to some but undoubtedly a sign that his name was making waves around the league.
Thomas measured in at 6'3" and 317 pounds at the NFL's Scouting Combine, slight for an interior lineman but understandable given he played tackle through most of college. Teams had him pegged as a bit of a tweener, which can either be the worst or best thing for a prospect.
On one hand, Thomas is versatile, a key component considering the glut of injuries on NFL offensive lines. On the other hand, it's fair to wonder whether he has or will ever develop the necessary power and drive off the line to be an effective guard.
"I do not have a preference," Thomas told reporters of his position at the combine. "I am more comfortable at tackle, though, because of course these last two seasons, I've been playing tackle. I haven't really had as much playing time at guard."
Thomas played most of his collegiate career on the outside, but also played left guard during his sophomore season. He's indicated a willingness to move back inside, though he noted it would take an initial adjustment period. Not even NFL teams seem to have a surefire opinion on his eventual position:
Some teams, you're hearing you're definitely a guard, but then some other teams, they say we'll try you out at tackle; if that doesn't work, we'll move you to guard. They kind of see me as both. They see me as a leverage guard that can move his feet so they can move me out to tackle. They just want to see how I perform out there.
With this injury, the cloud of concern raises even higher. While it ranges, a typical ACL tear is roughly a year long injury. Some have made it back sooner (e.g. Adrian Peterson) while others take the full recovery period, depending on how quickly their bodies respond to therapy. There has been no indication at this point whether Thomas has undergone or when he will undergo surgery.
Either way, an ACL tear at this juncture puts him in serious jeopardy of missing his entire rookie season. Even an eight-month window would put Thomas well into December—the final month of the NFL's regular season. Miller notes this will understandably quell whatever excitement there was about Thomas, putting him in danger of going undrafted:
Terrible news about Brandon Thomas tearing his ACL. Could go from Day 2 pick to undrafted.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) April 7, 2014
While unfortunate, this is the reality for all draft prospects regardless of sport. Injury red flags have sent even more highly touted players spiraling down boards, as teams are deathly afraid to blow a pick—and the cheap labor that comes along with it.
If Thomas makes a full recovery, though, he could become a major late-round steal if the bubbling hype about him proves correct. For now, he'll become the latest in a long line of NFL-worthy players whose bank accounts were fundamentally altered by injury.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: