The Redskins addressed their hole at free safety by drafting Fresno St.’s Phillip Thomas in the fourth round (119 overall) Saturday afternoon.
Thomas, a unanimous first team All-American, led the FBS last season with eight interceptions. He’s known for superb ball skills and instincts that compensate for less-than-elite athleticism and speed.
“I feel like I’m going to be the steal of the draft,” Thomas said on a teleconference shortly after the Redskins drafted him.
Thomas (5-11, 198) thrived last season after Fresno St. switched to a 3-4 defense, he said.
“Being in the 3-4 defense that can create a lot of pressure and do a lot of different things, I was able to play just a little bit looser and use my instincts,” he said.
Thomas grew up a Redskins fan in Bakersfield, Calif. “I saw them play one day on TV when I was younger, and that just was my team ever since then,” he said. Thomas knew enough about their need at safety, citing strong safety Brandon Meriweather’s ACL injury last season and the first-string vacancy at free safety.
“I know that we needed a safety…needed a safety that can play the ball in the air,” he said.
In describing how he plays, Thomas mentioned interchangeability—a key trait that coach Mike Shanahan and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett emphasize in their 3-4 defense.
“I’m great at getting the ball when it’s in the air, but also I did a lot of things as far as blitzing and playing in the box, so I feel like I can do both,” Thomas said. “I feel like I’m an interchangeable safety that can make plays in the box and can also play in the high hole and make plays in the air.”
Thomas’ favorite Redskin isn’t difficult to guess.
“It has to be Sean Taylor,” Thomas said of the late Pro Bowl free safety. “I play the safety position. To watch him play the game as aggressive as he was, as great of a player as he was, he studied the film and did everything he had to do, and he was a perfectionist at the game. Of course he would be my favorite player on my favorite team.”