Scouting Shamarko Thomas

Last week, on the same day that they traded away Calvin Pryor, the Jets signed former Steelers defensive back Shamarko Thomas.

The 26-year old Thomas is 5'9" and 217 pounds and was a fourth round pick out of Syracuse in 2013. He spent the last four seasons with the Steelers, where he started two games at safety but contributed mainly on special teams.


Thomas had a productive college career, playing 48 games and recording 263 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and four sacks.

The Steelers drafted him in the fourth round in 2013 and he started two games and played in a rotational role until midseason.

However, he has only played 33 snaps in three-and-a-half seasons since that time. He's been a key contributor on special teams throughout, but never made it back into the rotation despite being given some opportunities to increase his role.

The Jets signed Thomas last week and he looks set to compete for a back-up safety role with rookies Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye projected to start.


Things did not go smoothly for Thomas at the scouting combine. He was unable to complete the workout due to a hamstring injury and this was how his 40-yard dash went:


Despite these issues, Thomas put up terrific athletic numbers, as you can see, although he is small for the safety position.

Due to not having completed his combine workout, Thomas ran the three cone drill at his pro day and posted another excellent number with a 6.84.


Thomas has played most of the time in the box or matching up with slot receivers while at Pittsburgh and Syracuse. He'll play deep at times, but rarely in a single high role.

Run defense

Thomas is a productive run defender and shows an eagerness to come up and make plays at the line of scrimmage, even when playing deep.

Unfortunately, he can at times be a little reckless when coming forwards, leading to bad angles, overpursuit and missed tackles. Thomas (#29) overpursues particularly badly here:


When he diagnoses a play correctly, Thomas is quick to close on the ball carrier and can makes plays in the backfield. He had 12.5 tackles for loss on running plays in college and has had five with the Steelers (including preseason action).


As noted, Thomas can sometimes come up too fast, causing him to be unable to square up the runner well enough. This can lead to broken tackles as seen here:


When coming downhill, he does often do a good job of driving through the ball carrier to stop him in his tracks. However, he does have a tendency to throw a shoulder rather than wrap-up sometimes.

Coverage skills

In college, Thomas showed some promise in coverage with his ability to close on the ball:


However, at the NFL level he has had issues with his positional play, often being out of position in zone coverage or late getting over when ranging deep. On this play, Thomas is caught flat footed in coverage as the receiver runs down the seam for a long touchdown:



As noted, Thomas likes to make big hits. When he does, he has had a few forced fumbles, including one in regular season action.

However, this can be a problem as he will often play recklessly. In addition to the possibility of a missed tackle, Thomas also had a roughing the kicker penalty and an unnecessary roughness flag for a late hit out of bounds.

He's only had one other penalty on defense, a pass interference call while covering Rob Gronkowski.

In coverage, Thomas has played some press coverage but has had mixed results when doing so.

Ball skills

One concern over Thomas is his playmaking ability. He had just two interceptions and five passes defensed in his entire college career and has had just two passes defensed, both in preseason, at the NFL level.

On this corner fade, he almost recovered but was too badly beaten initially to have time to get his head turned around:



As noted, Thomas had four sacks in college and he had one more in a preseason game but none so far in regular season action. However, he blitzed several times in his rookie year and was able to record a couple of pressures and a hit through being untouched, twice off the edge and once stunting up the middle.

Special teams

Mike Tomlin praised Thomas as one of the Steelers' best special teamers and he made some excellent contributions with them.

Primarily operating as a gunner and in kick coverage, Thomas has racked up 33 tackles in his four seasons. Here, he blew up the return man, leading to a Steelers touchdown.


For some reason, his recklessness hasn't been as much of an issue on special teams as he's only missed a few tackles. He has been penalized three times for fair catch interference and twice for being offside on special teams though.

Thomas consistently gets downfield quickly and is in position to make the tackle or down the punt, as he does here:

via Steel City Underground

In addition to his production in kick coverage, Thomas has also contributed as a vice and on the punt rush unit. He blocked this punt for a safety in a 2014 playoff game against Baltimore.


One of the reasons Thomas failed to get back into the rotation was that he kept having missed assignments and mental errors.

His concentration and positional sense both seem to let him down in coverage and he can be prone to biting on play fakes and double moves.

He had one particularly bad blunder on special teams where he didn't down a punt properly and the return man picked it up and ran it in. Although the touchdown was negated by a penalty, Tomlin was extremely angry about that mental lapse:



Thomas is another inspirational story off the field. He lost both parents in 2010 and, as the eldest of six children, suddenly had a lot of responsibilities at a young age. He almost entered the draft a year early, but it was probably a good idea for him to stay in and solidify himself as a fourth round pick.

On the field, he can be demonstrative and usually plays hard, but sometimes shows bad body language after making a play or appears reluctant to chase down a lost cause.


Thomas ending up missing eight games last year after first having a groin injury for a month and then landing on injured reserve with a concussion. Prior to that he had some ankle issues in his rookie year.

In college, he missed two games in his junior year with a leg injury and played his entire senior season while sporting an elbow brace.

Scheme Fit

Thomas is a better fit as a box safety. With the versatility of Adams and Maye, that could be a role which he could work his way into. However, he's probably more likely to make his mark on special teams in the short term.


When the Jets drafted Adams and Maye and then jettisoned Pryor, it looked like they were conducting a complete makeover of the secondary by removing Pryor's recklessness and bringing in two players with apparent excellent instincts and discipline.

However, Thomas can be guilty of many of the same things that Pryor struggled with. As an option to play a similar role, he's certainly cheaper and could still have some upside having barely played on defense since 2013. However, I wouldn't be surprised to see him fall behind guys like Rontez Miles and Doug Middleton in the pecking order and instead find himself focused on a special teams role.

In that role, he's been excellent and should certainly add something to a unit that never quite put it all together last year.

UP NEXT: We take a look at another recent addition in the secondary; Corey White