The rookie QB matriculated to the NFL by way of Virginia Tech where he managed to start every game over the past three seasons. In 2011, Thomas set the college football world on fire when he managed to meet or exceed numerous Virginia Tech records as an electrifying dual-threat passer.
The fire died out.
Sadly, the promising young quarterback we saw in 2011 never took that much-needed next step as a passer, and his draft prospects suffered because of it. That year was his high-water mark for passing yards (3,013), passing percentage (59.8) and yards per attempt (7.7). Thomas simply never reached his incredible potential he once showed as a Hokie.
Had Thomas continued to get better under the tutelage of the likes of Scot Loeffler, Bryan Stinespring and Mike O'Cain, it's likely we'd be talking about him as a first-round pick and probably as a team's starter for the 2014 season.
Since that didn't happen, though, Thomas fell to the fourth round and sits behind both Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton as the team's third quarterback—assuming he beats out Ryan Lindley for the spot. To some, that might look like a wasted fourth-round pick for a team struggling to find legitimacy and playoff clout in the NFC West.
Yet, with Palmer turning 35 this year, Thomas might be the perfect pick, and it's possible this will be looked on as a steal for a team desperate for a long-term answer at the quarterback position.
Thomas May Not Be as Far Off as Critics Think
Forget the name Logan Thomas for a moment.
What if I told you there was a quarterback prospect with immense size at 6'6", 250 pounds who happens to run like an enormous gazelle and has a howitzer on his shoulder? Then, what if that prospect also has the bona fides of a ridiculously and vocal good leader—the kind players line up to get behind? To top it all off, what if the guy had 40 career starts in college and very little injury history to speak of?
The first thought should be: It's too good to be true.
The second thought might be: Wait, are you talking about Cam Newton?
NFL Films guru Greg Cosell made that comparison earlier this year and actually went so far as to say that Thomas was more pro-ready as a prospect than Newton was before his No. 1 selection:
Of course, outcomes in the minds of most always supersede process. Newton won a national championship in his single year at Auburn; Thomas was 26-14, with few signature wins in his three years as Virginia Tech's starter. Cam is a winner, and therefore a special talent; Logan is raw and unrefined, with more questions than answers.
Here's the reality, which to many is inconceivable given the negative perception of Thomas, and Newton's relative success in the NFL after three seasons: Thomas is further along as a natural passer than Newton was at the equivalent point in time, having played more games in college, and learning an offense with far more complexities than Newton's Auburn offense.
The point Cosell makes is that the negative view of Thomas was largely a product of his results, which also has a lot to do with his surroundings. Virginia Tech wasn't going to have the same season that Auburn did in Newton's final year, and Loeffler's offense is hardly as perfect a fit for Thomas as Auburn's wide-open offense was for Newton.
When one isolates the play of the two, the similarities really are there, and it's not beyond the pale to see why someone watching that tape and ignoring the wins and losses might come away with the idea that Thomas could match (or even surpass) the success Newton has had in the NFL.
None of this changes the fact that Thomas has a lot of work to do to be a viable NFL passer; it just gives that fact a frame of reference in that he's not the only one needing to put in that work.
So, where are Thomas' biggest deficiencies?
First and foremost, it's his lack of consistency and accuracy. Thomas may have a cannon, but the guidance system is totally shot.
When that's the case, there's always a great chance that mechanics (usually footwork) is the culprit and Thomas doesn't have anything to dissuade that notion. He's a mess—putting it lightly—and doesn't do anything incorrectly the same way enough to easily change him for the better.
All told, he's starting at square one in the NFL.
While the college ranks are often thought of as a training ground for the NFL, understand, that simply isn't the case. No, college football is a multibillion-dollar industry of its own accord and pays its coaches handsomely not to get players ready for the NFL but to win games.
This is why mechanical messes such as Thomas, Tim Tebow and Jameis Winston are allowed to be mechanical messes—they're still winning football games. The time it takes to break a player down and put him back together isn't conducive to putting together a winning college football team—especially if said player is a starter by his freshman or sophomore year.
In many ways, this season is one of the first times Thomas is going to get the actual coaching he needs to progress as an NFL-caliber passer.
Arizona Is the Perfect Situation for Thomas to Take That Next Step
While a developmental quarterback prospect may or may not turn out to be perfect for the Cardinals, the spot is perfect for Thomas to further learn his trade at the NFL level.
In fact, according to the Arizona Cardinals' website writer Darren Urban, head coach Bruce Arians doesn't think there's much separating Thomas and NFL success:
When you are talking about a developmental quarterback, and in these rounds that’s what they all are, you want a guy who’s got all the tools. Outstanding intangibles, one of those guys everyone gravitates to.
Now, is he ready to play? No.
Later, Urban adds:
Arians agreed, saying Thomas would be a quarterback. Arians took part personally in the workout the Cardinals put Thomas through at Virginia Tech back in March. Arians said Thomas was hurt by coordinator changes and a lack of offensive talent in college, and called his accuracy issues “easily correctable” with better footwork.
That's certainly a glass-half-full kind of analysis from the Cardinals head coach, but it's one backed by years of relevant experience in molding not only quarterbacks but also big, strong-armed quarterbacks—even some with mechanical flaws others picked apart.
Arians, himself, was a a quarterback at Virginia Tech way back in 1974. Afterward, he bounced around in the college and pro ranks, spending a lot of his time bouncing around between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts with plenty of varying stops before, after and in between.
This was the coach Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning first worked with when coming into the league with the Indianapolis Colts. Now, Manning and Thomas might be as disparate quarterback prospects as can be, but there's much to be said for the work Arians did with Manning.
A lot of what we know of Manning's tendencies can be traced to Arians, who bred those in him—consistent before-the-snap calls, methodical progressions, etc.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, too, benefitted from having Arians as a transition point between college and the pros. Again, Luck probably has far more in common with Manning than with Thomas, but in terms of consistency, Arians did a lot to help Luck in their short time together.
The one quarterback Arians has worked with that bears a lot of similarities to Thomas, though, is Pittsburgh Steelers passer Ben Roethlisberger. Just check out this predraft scouting report on Big Ben, courtesy of Tony Pauline, via Scout.com, noting Roethlisberger's huge arm but shaky release and mechanics.
In truth, while the Steelers had a fine first year with Roethlisberger at the helm, the rookie himself had a pretty subpar season. He was a physical specimen, but he had to develop as a pocket passer—much like the transition Thomas needs to make. They're the steps Arians took with Roethlisberger after he had been in the league for a few years.
Now, Arians' resume isn't spotless. He's also got some Tim Couch years in his background.
Still, there aren't a lot of QB tutors in the league on his level, and there is not a coach as adept at turning poor footwork and total-mechanics overhaul into a usable product. If Thomas is going to be anything in the NFL, Arians has a chance to get that out of him.
Arians' scheme, too, is a good fit for Thomas. The vertically based offense certainly caters to Thomas' ridiculously strong arm, and putting those defenders on their heels opens up running lanes as well. With an improving offensive line and recent offensive additions, such as tight end Troy Niklas and receivers Michael Floyd and Ted Ginn Jr., the offense might be as set as it's been in a while.
It isn't just Arians and that offense that make Arizona a perfect fit, however.
In Arizona, there is zero pressure. Do a quick Google News search for "Logan Thomas." There's nothing earth-shattering there. In fact, there isn't much there at all. This isn't anything like what Johnny Manziel has to deal with in Cleveland, and it's far less than Newton had to deal with from his critics following his draft selection.
Don't take this the wrong way, Cardinals fans, but there aren't a ton of immediate expectations for the Cardinals anytime soon. The Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers are in the catbird seat in the NFC West, and the St. Louis Rams are right on pace with the Cardinals and ascending just about as steadily. Take either of those teams out of the division, and things could be much different.
That said, there isn't going to be a massive push for the Cardinals to win the division in the next year or so. Palmer is going to transition out of the starting gig, and Thomas may or may not take over. Maybe there's a bridge period with Stanton (30) or another veteran QB. Maybe there isn't. Either way, it's not as if the pressure is going to mount in any real way, shape or form.
This is not to say that the Cardinals can't ascend to the top of the division, but it's simply to say that the expectation won't be there as it might be if Thomas had gone to be Brady's or Manning's heir apparent.
When Thomas was going through the draft process, no one saw this coming, but it's starting to make all the sense in the world that he could turn out to be exactly what they needed.