The Arizona Cardinals added a trio of pass-rushing rookies in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Of the three, San Diego State’s Cameron Thomas was singled out by NFL executives for the right reasons when taking a look at Arizona’s draft class for ESPN.
Third-round defensive end Cameron Thomas (No. 87 overall) is a class with high-end talent. The 2021 Mountain West defensive player of the year had 23.5 tackles for loss, second to Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr., who should be a top pick next year. And Thomas’ 61 QB pressures ranked fourth behind Anderson, Aidan Hutchinson (No. 2 overall pick) and Mika Tafua, who signed with Dallas as an undrafted free agent.
While Thomas was a defensive end in college, he considers himself an outside linebacker, needing the Cardinals to address the draft.
“I’ve always been an edge rusher,” Thomas told reporters after he was drafted. “I needed to do what my team needed to do, which was an inside defender, nose tackle. Going into my sophomore year, I was asked to go back to the edge, but we weren’t going to fix anything that wasn’t broken so I stayed there another season.
“This past season, my junior season, I was able to make the transition back out there and I felt most natural out there. I think that ‘s what really made me pop off this year and all that preparation has added up. “
That doesn’t mean he’ll just work on the outside, however, as he has the tools, ability and experience to play along the inside if called upon.
The Cardinals can play Thomas all over, which helps on a D-line after all three projected starters – JJ Watt, Rashard Lawrence and Zach Allen – missed games last year. Thomas generated 4.0 sacks with a 13.3% pressure rate as a defensive tackle compared to 5.5 sacks at 11.4% pressure rate at defensive end.
No matter where he goes defensively, Thomas will have a veteran presence nearby in outside linebacker Markus Golden and defensive end JJ Watt.
“I’m going to stick around and learn everything I can from them, they are two veteran players that absolutely tear it up,” Thomas said. “To be able to learn from the best, I’m just so pumped up.
“I modeled a lot of my game after JJ Watt, especially at San Diego State, had a lot of versatility. JJ was another guy that I was able to learn a lot of inside and out and just to dominate. I ‘m hoping to do the same. “
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