Sunday, October 5th 2014. Week 5 of the NFL season.
The Arizona Cardinals are trailing the Denver Broncos by 9 points. With little more than three minutes left in the third quarter the Cardinals have possession of the ball on their own 19 yard line. 1st & 10.
Logan Thomas is in shotgun formation.
The ball is snapped and gathered cleanly by the quarterback. He takes two tentative but quick strides back, bobs forward three stuttered steps and releases the ball. The rushing defense slices through the offensive line and Thomas is knocked to the ground.
But the ball has left his hand, is zipping downfield in a tight spiral, and is caught by Andre Ellington who races away from the secondary coverage and bursts into the end zone. 81 yards. Touchdown.
At time of writing, almost two calendar years later, this remains Logan Thomas’ only completed pass in the National Football League.
It was the undoubted highlight of his performance that day — he attempted eight other passes that were not successful — and it is his only regular season appearance to date. Thomas had been called into action when quarterback Drew Stanton had been injured on an earlier play. Stanton had himself been a replacement for regular starting quarterback Carson Palmer who, following a collision in Week 1, was not able to take to the field. Logan Thomas was the clearly defined No.3 quarterback on their roster. This was his opportunity.
Thomas was drafted with the 120th pick of the 2014 draft. The fourth round selection was in keeping with his scouting reports and pre-draft projection. He was seen as a project. Someone who could be moulded. He wasn’t necessarily ‘ready’ for the NFL but in possession of talent and raw potential.
He rose to prominence at Virginia Tech and was quick to catch the eye of the pro-scouting networks. Any 250lb quarterback who stands at 6-foot-6 will tend to draw attention in the college game but he also demonstrated an agility and arm strength that saw him touted as a potential first round pick. Thomas played understudy to Tyrod Taylor in 2010 before progressing to starter the following year. In his first year leading the team he threw for over 3000 yards — with a 60 percent completion rate — resulting in 30 touchdowns. His numbers significantly declined the following year. It should be noted, the statistical deficit coincided with a reduction in surrounding talent on Virginia Tech. A new offense scheme in 2013 and an influx of new acquisitions, saw a resurgence in his statistics.
Ultimately, his college career can be best described as inconsistent. This is an unwanted label for any quarterback, not least one with NFL aspirations.
Using film of the college game can be a useful tool when trying to evaluate a player and his suitability to the professional ranks. There is an under-lying level of complexity to such evaluation. It is an intrinsically subjective process. The task is perhaps most difficult with the quarterback position. The theoretically balanced college conferences still house individual teams that differ wildly in class and overall talent. A college team and its players may experience a fluctuating level of competition each week. Logan Thomas’ college game tape, even through this prism, does little to dishearten the casual football fan. He looks impressive. He is huge. The Virginia Tech QB has obvious skill and composure. There is variety in his throws. He looks a constant threat in the running game.
Yet the talent and sophistication of defenses that a college quarterback has to out-maneuver is undeniably and significantly lower than those of the pro game. The NFL defensive linemen, tasked with the violent disruption of the QB, are considerably bigger and unquestionably faster. A receiver who is tightly shadowed in a college game scenario can be considered wide open in the NFL. As the game evolves from college to professional the margins of error dramatically tighten. The National Football League is a step too far for many collegiate superstars.
It should not be overlooked that there is an entire industry dedicated to the scouting and evaluation of the college football player. It is no longer enough to identify talent and skill. There also has to be consideration as to how an individual’s skill-set, physique, intelligence, character and adaptability will translate to the NFL level.
After his graduation Logan Thomas elected to train with quarterback guru George Whitfield. It is not uncommon that players with high draft grades will try to maximize their ‘draft-ability’ by entering similar programs. Such training regimes are intense by design. This is not only physical work-outs and position-specific drills. The course also prepares the student for the Scouting Combine and scheduled team meetings. A standout performance in these disciplines can have considerable bearing on a draft position.
Thomas’ public performance at the Combine was impressive. In his standard issue Lycra workout gear he cut an impressive figure. His muscular frame suggested peak physical conditioning. He ran the 40 yard dash in a very respectable 4.61 seconds. He showcased his ability to throw the football to multiple receivers. He had a fluid and compact release in his throwing motion. His mechanics looked good. He looked composed.
This was admittedly a very controlled environment but one he seemed to thrive in.
When Arizona drafted Thomas a few weeks later it wasn’t considered a big news story. But it was met with some interest in various analytical circles. Thomas wasn’t expected to offer any immediate challenge to Carson Palmer. The media was happy to declare he was ‘one-for-the-future’. This lack of significant pressure would perhaps offer him the freedom to evolve and grow into the position. This could be beneficial. But the prospect of this player, with all his physical tools, being coached by Bruce Arians was intriguing. Arians had played a pivotal role in Ben Roethlisberger’s transcendence in Pittsburgh. This seemed like a good fit for player, coach and team.
When Thomas found himself thrust into the spotlight during the showdown in Denver he wasn’t considered the finished article. He was playing due to circumstance rather than as the next logical step in his development. With this in mind the 1 of 9 completion rate becomes more understandable. It would be far too charitable to suggest it is anything other than completely unacceptable. What is undeniable however is he threw a pass that resulted in an 81 yard touchdown.
The throw itself is incredible. It is absolutely perfect in its execution. The ball finds the receiver who has expertly curled his run from the backfield, away from his QB into his opponents secondary. The precision of the throw allowed Ellington to accelerate into a cradled catch without breaking stride. It is thrown amongst defenders but not into a contestable area. It is pinpoint accuracy. It could not have been thrown any better.
If we somehow had the ability to insert a Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers into the very same game scenario they, with all their considerable talent, might struggle to improve upon that pass. But what immediately separates Brady and Rodgers from the likes of Logan Thomas is their body of work. They have developed and advanced their careers. They have earned our trust and heightened our expectation. If we extended our purely hypothetical re-creation of the play — this time allowing each to have ten pass attempts in the same scenario — we may confidently predict the more established duo may complete upwards of seventy percent.
Logan Thomas might never recreate that pass.
The 2014 season didn’t offer much more in terms of opportunity for Thomas. Carson Palmer returned — only to pick up another injury ending his season in early November. Drew Stanton was reinstated at QB despite his own injury issues. Arizona eventually added another quarterback to the mix in the shape of Ryan Lindley who was given the start, struggled but closed out the season in the QB role . Heading into the playoffs Bruce Arians announced that Logan Thomas would adopt the role of starter but this plan, amidst reports of erratic performance in practice, was swiftly changed. Lindley assumed starting duties.
Arizona took the decision to cut Thomas in the run up to the 2015 season. He was deemed surplus to requirements. He was quickly signed to the Miami Dolphin practice squad, was briefly promoted to the full roster but never took a snap. He was waived by the Dolphins in mid-June 2016.
It was at this juncture that Thomas was claimed by the New York Giants. Despite his involvement in training camp and preseason games Thomas did not make their 2016 roster. He has, once again, found himself on a practice squad. The Giants represent a third team that clearly see potential in him. The hope is that the inconsistency can be smoothed out. Another year to accept coaching, to develop and mature. This is another reclamation project. The Giants will attempt to salvage this discarded quarterback.
Earning a full roster spot in the current NFL is challenge in itself. Quarterback is the most demanding and specialized position in sport. The role is closely entwined with the success or failure of a franchise. Typically a team, hamstrung by league limits, will carry two or three QBs on their active roster. To commit additional resources to the position— despite its incredible importance — would be detrimental to the construction of the rest of the roster. Additionally, a team with four quarterbacks has no quarterback.
The landscape Logan Thomas finds himself in is a hugely competitive one. Jobs are scarce. Opportunity can arrive at the expense of others. Injury, retirement and extreme loss of form are unfortunate triggers for optimism. Each year the college draft process sees new faces added to the crowded battleground. It is not only the survival of the fittest. It is who grasps the opportunity when it presents itself.
Logan Thomas is waiting.