Meet Cameron Thomas, San Diego State’s dynamic edge defender

In a class of loaded defensive linemen and edge rushers, Cameron Thomas from San Diego State has managed to stand out as a potential first-round pick.

With 10.5 sacks and 20.5 tackles for a loss in 2021, Thomas was one of the most productive defenders in all of college football this past season. A versatile lineman who can play all over the defensive line, he was voted as the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year for his dominant junior year and is riding a wave of momentum leading up to the 2022 NFL draft.

Draft Wire had the chance to speak with Thomas about his stellar season, his pre-draft preparations, entering the NFL at the same time as his brother, and much more.

JI: You’re a versatile defender who can play in a bunch of different alignments along the defensive line. How do you prepare to play as a 5-tech as opposed to a 3-tech or a 4i, and which one do you feel the most comfortable in if you had to choose?

CT: I was asked to play a variety of roles [in] a lot of time at San Diego State. Whether, you know, I’m lining up from 0, a 1, or all the way up to even a 5 or a stand-up 9, even. The preparation with that, each week, would just be really keying into my details and really listening to the coaching points of the week. When it came to the end of the week, it was just me giving my 100 percent effort, and I think that was kind of the biggest deal with that, especially playing so many positions. At the end of the day, [it’s] just putting your best effort forward, and I think that really helped me succeed.

JI: You’ve been going through this pre-draft process with your older brother, Zachary, and coming up with him at SDSU. What does it mean to you both to be going through this process together?

CT: Oh, man, it’s so cool. It’s very cool, especially for me, my brother, but especially my parents. They deserve that, [with] everything that they put in and just getting us to this step. But being able to have your brother in this process is something that not very many people have. Being able to talk with him every day, hear what he’s going through, and then comparing with myself and what I’m going through, it’s such a relief and just makes the process a lot more comfortable.

(AP Photo/Sam Hodde)

JI: Growing up with an offensive lineman for a brother, do you guys help each other out and talk about what the other position is looking for?

CT: Me and my brother grew up really competitive, even when it came down to eating [laughs]. We’re always competing at that. You could definitely tell that we were going to be linemen growing up, there was no doubt about that. Being able to grow up around an offensive lineman, you get a good feel of who you’re gonna be playing against every week, and vice versa. I think he has a pretty good idea and a feel for what a defensive lineman will be like.

JI: If you had to choose, what’s your go-to move or combo of moves once you reach the point of attack?

CT: Oh man, yeah, that definitely varies, just like you said, with the versatility thing. With me exactly, I do a lot by feel. I really try to get a good read of the offensive lineman before I really make a move. You know, if he’s gonna jump set me, either I’m gonna use a quick hand, a double swipe is what I call it, but up inside and use his momentum against him and go inside. Say he steps more vertical, I like to take him up the field and then use a power move, aggressive move and really get him on his heels and drive him right back to the quarterback. I wouldn’t say I have exactly an in-mind go-to move, but it really just goes off reactions.

JI: You had the chance to go down to the Senior Bowl recently. How was that experience?

CT: That was such an awesome opportunity. I mean, the Senior Bowl, you’re going with the best of the best. I was so excited. Especially growing up, I always watched the Senior Bowl. I was just so excited to finally get my opportunity to shine. Jim Nagy did a great job organizing the whole thing. It was just such an awesome experience.

JI: Not only do you get to compete against top talent, but you get to meet with NFL teams. How did that go?

CT: It’s really cool. I grew up a huge NFL [fan], from a little kid growing all the way up. Being able to meet with all these different teams, man, every time I went to different tents, I was in awe every time. I was like, “Holy cow, I’m meeting with this team, this team.” Such a cool experience, and I was just so excited going from tent to tent. I really had fun with that process.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

JI: Which defensive linemen or edge rushers have you grown up idolizing?

CT: Oh man, that’s a really good question. Honestly, growing up in San Diego, the first defensive lineman that I really started watching was Shawne Merriman, and it just kind of went on from there, and then I kind of bounced around from player to player a lot of my time. A lot of my time at San Diego State, with my versatility, I’d like to watch J.J. Watt and Aaron Donald. There’s many players growing up that I’d watch. I’ve watched a lot of players.

JI: How do you like to spend your free time outside of football?

CT: I was very blessed to be able to grow up in San Diego, California. I like to just relax at the beach. I was never much of a surfer growing up, but I like to free dive, which is basically like snorkeling deep in the ocean. Lobster diving, spearfishing, and then just spending time with my girlfriend.

JI: Let’s say I’m an NFL general manager. What would I be getting if I drafted you to my team?

CT: A player that comes off the ball every snap with bad intentions that absolutely loves the game and does everything he can to prepare. [He] just loves the sport, loves the camaraderie of the team and just buying in. I just think my effort alone really gets me a far way. Just my love for the sport; I would just be a very passionate player.


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