Rookie Jemea Thomas Ready to Surprise in Loaded Patriots Secondary

James ChristensenContributor IJuly 25, 2014

Small body, big player.
Small body, big player.Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

When Bill Belichick acquires a player in the NFL draft—such as sixth-round draft pick Jemea Thomas—he has an idea of who they might replace on the current roster. Thomas, however, could end up taking snaps at multiple roles on special teams and defense.

Replacing multiple higher-priced veterans with a cheap rookie contract is good business, but only if Thomas can hold up where it counts—on the field.

With Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Devin McCourty, Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon and Alfonzo Dennard looking like locks for playing time, Thomas will have to carve out a couple of roles to remain on the active roster.


Kyle Arrington

Arrington likely won't get cut—the New England Patriots would lose $1.25 million in cap room according to—but his role as the primary "Star" cornerback could be in jeopardy. From that position, Arrington excels in run support and rushing the passer, contributing above-average coverage as well.

Thomas, however, has a similar skill set. At Georgia Tech, he racked up 6.5 tackles for loss as a senior, including three sacks. He attacks the ball-carrier and is adept at fighting through the trash underneath to make the tackle.

Despite his 5'10" frame, he is no slouch running with bigger receivers outside.

Try to pick a favorite play from the highlights below. Is it out-jumping Kelvin Benjamin to snag an interception? Blanketing Eric Ebron in coverage? Laying the wood on countless ball-carriers? Thomas is an easy prospect to love.

In the highlights, you don't see Thomas peeking in the backfield too much or getting a bit grabby with receivers. He isn't a polished product as of right now. However, Thomas' contributions don't stop when the defense leaves the field.


Tavon Wilson/Nate Ebner

Despite important contributions on special teams, Wilson and Ebner combined for a total of 24 snaps last year. Perhaps more disconcerting is the fact that each of them were on the field less in their second year than they were in the first.

If Thomas and perhaps another safety like Patrick Chung were able to unseat the special teams-only Wilson and Ebner, the Patriot would save nearly $1 million against the salary cap in 2014.

Thomas has the ability to play on the four core special teams units: kickoff coverage, kickoff return, punt coverage and punt return. His vision and hitting will come in handy on both sides of the equation with kickoffs, while his strength and physicality give him a leg up as both a gunner and a vice on punts.



Belichick will have a tough decision regarding if and where Thomas is played. With Browner being out the first four games, it could give him a chance to show what he is capable of doing.  

Oliver Thomas from sums up the fascination surrounding Thomas' possibilities:

It remains to be seen if the Patriots have a favorite position for him.

It remains to be seen if he’ll be a factor as a safety, cornerback, a nickelback, a sub-package linebacker or as a special-teamer. As a sixth-round draft choice, it remains to be seen if he’ll make the final cut to 53.

But the more he can do, the better his odds become. And with that, the harder the coach’s decision becomes.

Opposing receivers will eventually be hearing his footsteps as he sets up for a big hit, but Arrington, Wilson and Ebner might be hearing them already.