HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 04: LSU wide receiver Brian Thomas Jr. (11) attempts a catch in the endzone during the TaxAct Texas Bowl game between the Kansas State Wildcats and the LSU Tigers on Tuesday January 4th, 2022 at NRG Stadium in Houston, TX.  (Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 04: LSU wide receiver Brian Thomas Jr. (11) attempts a catch in the endzone during the TaxAct Texas Bowl game between the Kansas State Wildcats and the LSU Tigers on Tuesday January 4th, 2022 at NRG Stadium in Houston, TX. (Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Brian Thomas Jr. Third Round Gamble

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BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA – OCTOBER 16: Brian Thomas Jr. #11 of the LSU Tigers warms up during a game at Tiger Stadium on October 16, 2021 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

LSU wide receiver Brian Thomas Jr. had a breakout season in 2023. He went from 28 receptions (359 yards) in 2021 and 31 receptions (361 yards) to 68 receptions for 1,177 yards in 2023.

Thomas had seven combined touchdowns in 2021 and 2022, and 17 touchdowns in 2023.

Yeah, he broke out alright.

I haven’t been super high on Thomas in the past. In 2022, I had a fifth-round grade on him, but there was no question he looked better in 2023.

Other draft platforms

Currently, over 35% of the other draft platforms out there have tagged Thomas with a first-round grade (nflmockdraftdatabase.com).

As my Grandma used to say, “To each their own.”

Pro Football Network, Walter Football, CBS, NBC Sports Boston, Fox Sports, Draft Kings, 33rd Team, Bleacher Report, Sporting News, NFL.com, Draftwire, The Athletic, SB Nation, USA Today, Pro Football Focus, Yahoo Sports, San Diego UnionTribune and others have put a first-round grade on Thomas.

To me, the first round is reserved for consistent dynamic difference makers and the second round is reserved for those who are inconsistent dynamic difference makers or there is some sort of surrounding issue.

Hence, the reason I arrived at this value with Thomas. The game film didn’t support a first-round grade. If you loved Thomas, I mean loved him, maybe late second.

What did Thomas look like on film?

For most of these games (except Florida and Army) Thomas looked like a safety valve big framed receiver who caught a ton of short passes and got tackled pretty much immediately.

He struggled to create separation or be able to create much in the way of throwing windows. Granted, the one thing Thomas did have going for him on these reps was good vision and concentration MOST OF THE TIME. There were, however, times that lapsed and he dropped some he shouldn’t, took his eye off the ball too soon, or misjudged the location point where the pass was being thrown to and couldn’t adjust.

Then the Florida and Army game happened and he was catching footballs deep that were sliding down a rainbow.

If he hadn’t flashed the deep game, we’d be talking about a fifth-round grade again, like I had him on his 2022 film when that element was missing.

That’s why he’s a calculated gamble, I say calculated because it scared me how hard of a time he had achieving separation even at the college level.

Now he’s going up into the NFL where the difference between a pleasant surprise and a disappointment comes down to a proper valuation.

What positive traits stood out?

Thomas grew on me because he never showed any laziness or lack of caring about the game in either season.

This LSU receiver remained competitive after receptions (albeit he didn’t often pick up many yards after catches short-to-intermediate), he still tried and that alone got him a few extra yards here and there.

I also like his size, playing strength and I keep going back to the high level of focus and concentration in tight coverage that he often showed when making receptions.

Catch rate

Thomas’ three-year college catch rate:

2021: 28 receptions on 46 targets (61%)

2022: 31 receptions on 52 targets (60%)

2023: 68 receptions on 89 targets (76%)

#11 Brian Thomas Jr. 6-foot-4, 205 pounds

Daniel Kelly’s 2024 NFL Draft Grade: Third-Round (I would select him)

Projected by 37.2% of the NFL Draft Community to be a first-round pick as of January 30, 2024 (nflmockdraftdatabase.com)

Nothing Special About Brian Thomas Jr. (4 games evaluated in 2022)

2023 game film reviewed: Alabama, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Arkansas, FSU, Missouri, Florida, and Army (click to view games watched to form this evaluation)

2024 NFL Draft Scouting Report

Lean muscular long arm receiver with methodical long stride one-gear speed who flashed big play capability. Lined up out wide and in the slot. Strong initial release and route leverage (especially inside) but struggled to create separation in man coverage outside pressed against the sidelines. Excels versus zone. Big target. Uses frame to box out corners. Average change of direction. Seen as a short-range target by the offense a lot of the time. Aggressive. Physical blocker who takes it seriously.

Final words

I like prospects who are trending in the right direction.

Daniel Kelly is a former NFL Scout with the New York Jets. He was hired on the regime which featured Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Scott Pioli, Mike Tannenbaum, and Dick Haley. He is currently the Editor-in-Chief for First Round Mock, contributes at Yardbarker, and has written for Sports Illustrated Lions, Jets, and 49ers, as well as a featured guest on ESPN Radio and Fox Sports Radio. For more information about him visit his website at whateverittakesbook.com. He can be followed on Twitter @firstroundmock.

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