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Earl Thomas Could Represent The Future Of Free Safety

A base defense starts four players in the secondary. Thomas allows Seattle to start three capable corners without dropping a safety.

It's just not training camp until the whole rookie class is present. The Seahawks took a meaningful step towards that goal by signing Earl Thomas to a five-year, $21.1 million deal that includes $12.32 million guaranteed, according to Adam Schefter. Not for nothing, but how sweet is Adam Schefter's job? Being the go to guy for agents to call is not exactly Woodward and Bernstein.

Thomas roared onto the scene as much through Mike Mayock's scouting as his own play. Mayock favored Thomas over safety wunderkind Eric Berry. It was a minority opinion, but enough to send Seahawks fans into rapture when he fell to No. 14. Historically speaking, the first defensive back taken (Berry) in a draft class does substantially outperform the third defensive back taken (Thomas) in a draft class. We shall see. Mayock is easily the most respected mainstream draft analyst around.

Personally, I do not think Thomas is a better safety than Berry. Berry is a better tackler and more disciplined in coverage. He also proved his ability over a longer period, meaning his weaknesses have been exposed and targeted, but that Berry adjusted and reasserted his place as the best. What makes Thomas special is that he is as much corner as safety. Many general mangers, including Seahawks General Manger John Schneider, have referred to Thomas as a corner. And maybe one day he will be, but for now, that tweener status could make Thomas better matched than Berry for the demands of the modern NFL. Any smart coach would sacrifice a little run-stuffing ability for a boost in coverage.

Thomas has remarkable ball skills, especially for someone so young. He turned 21 this past May. Few things foretell future success like high achievement at a young age, and Thomas, in just two seasons at Texas, established himself as one of the best safeties in the country.

No prospect is perfect (though, as an avowed Eric Berry fan, I would argue Berry is close) and though Thomas is a sensational ball hawk, he is short and slightly built and it shows when he tackles. He also struggles some with overly aggressive play, but that can be expected from a young, rapacious center-field type safety. As a rookie, Thomas is likely to trade spectacular plays with blown assignments. You'll forgive Seahawks fans for not complaining.

The Seahawks have applied stopgaps at free safety ever since giving up on 2003 second-round pick Ken Hamlin. Thomas has a chance to win the position and start for the next 10 seasons. That could do wonders for a Seahawks pass defense that has rarely peaked above average in franchise history.