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Any evaluation of college quarterbacks must begin with an understanding of why NFL quarterbacks are successful. Talk to any NFL coach and they will tell you it begins with how a QB throws the ball. In the NFL, you have to make difficult throws against tough defenses in critical situations. It might happen only three times a game, it might happen eight times, but it will happen. If you can't do it, you will not be a high level quarterback.
That brings me to Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas, the best thrower in the 2014 draft class. Most dismissed Thomas after a subpar 2012 season, and a less than strong performance against Alabama in a nationally televised matchup to open the 2013 season. Viewers may not have been aware that the Alabama game was Thomas' first under new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler.
An uncomfortable quarterback in the embryonic stages of the learning curve was to be expected. Over time, Thomas became a more relaxed player, and his easy delivery and powerful arm produced throws that a quarterback transitioning to the NFL must make. Loeffler's passing game featured NFL route concepts and the coordinator did an outstanding job defining reads and progressions for Thomas. The growth in Thomas' game was evident on film.
There are certainly concerns with Thomas as he projects to the NFL. The biggest is his somewhat scattershot accuracy; he missed too many routine throws that you have to make. On the flip side, he delivered a significant number of throws that few, if any of the quarterbacks in this draft, can make. The same was said of Cam Newton when he came out of Auburn in 2011; he also was an erratic passer who frustrated and thrilled.
Thomas also lacks touch on shorter throws. At this point, he's more of a fastball pitcher than a customer service thrower. (Newton had the same issue.) Thomas is not a pure anticipation thrower; he's much more of a see it/throw it passer, waiting that extra beat until his receiver broke open rather than turning it loose before he made his break. Just as Newton is to this day, entering his fourth NFL season. Strong-armed quarterbacks can often get away with that because of the velocity with which they throw, but there are many instances they don't because those throws are late.
Another issue with Thomas was his slow eyes. There were times he did not identify, process and isolate quickly enough to deliver in a timely manner. Other times he made some outstanding throws that demanded precise timing, throwing to air, allowing his receiver to run to the ball. There were times Thomas looked as if he did not have great vision in the pocket; then there were throws in which he saw with clarity and delivered strikes into tight windows. This was the same inconsistency that Newton exhibited in his one year at Auburn.
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.
It's easy to say a quarterback is not ready to play in the NFL. The same could be said for every quarterback in this or any draft class, each for different reasons. The truth is few are prepared when they come out of college, regardless of collegiate production, won-lost percentage or the conference in which they played. Even the special ones like Andrew Luck have much to integrate and absorb.
Thomas is a work in progress with significant concerns that all recognize. He may never become a high level NFL starter. I'm certainly not suggesting it's a given. He may never even get the chance. There are so many dynamics that come into play that factor into that equation, some beyond the quarterback's control, such as what round in which he is drafted and which team selects him. (An apt analogy may be Ryan Mallet. There are many in the NFL who believe Mallet is among the 32 best quarterbacks today, but we may never find out). This I can tell you: there are few coaches who would not want the opportunity to work with a quarterback as physically talented as Thomas, one who gives an offense every dimension and expands the playbook.
What Thomas has in his arsenal is something every coach wants: an outstanding arm capable of making every NFL throw with little effort. That's where it starts. Those quarterbacks do not come along in every draft. It makes Thomas the most intriguing quarterback prospect in this class.