Going Deep: Logan Thomas is a King Without a Crown

Ben Brown makes the case that Logan Thomas, a former QB and the new #1 TE in Washington, is a potential star on the verge of a breakout.

For my first ever Going Deep piece, I chose to highlight a player who:

  • Was drafted as a quarterback
  • Converted to tight end three seasons ago
  • Only has 84 targets over those three seasons
  • Is on a new team
  • His new team has a new Head Coach, and
  • His new team has a new Offensive Coordinator

I’m really making this difficult for myself, huh? Anyway, I saw this tweet last week and it got my mind spinning.

That’s a pretty good tidbit about a player I’ve never heard about and on a team that really struggled in the red zone last season. There’s growing hype suggesting he will be the starting TE for the Washington Football Team come Week 1, but relatively little is known about him. Who is he? What has he done in his short career? And, more importantly for our purposes, what will he do for your fantasy team in 2020? Let’s dig in.

 

Who is this Logan Thomas guy?

 
Logan Thomas grew up in Lynchburg, Virginia. He attended Brookville High School, where he played quarterback, wide receiver, and defensive back. Interestingly, he also competed in track & field his junior and senior years of high school, where he earned All-state honors in the 110m hurdles, the 300m hurdles, the high jump, and the discus. Okay, so he’s a versatile athlete who can run and jump well. I like the sound of this already.

According to 247Sports, he was the 4th best quarterback prospect in 2009 and the 52nd best high school football player overall. He committed to Virginia Tech, where he redshirted his freshman year and backed up Tyrod Taylor in his sophomore season. In the following three years he threw for just over 9,000 yards with a 55.5% completion rate, while also registering 495 carries for 1,359 yards and 24 TD. That 2.1 YPC isn’t great, but it again speaks to his versatility as an athlete.

In the 2014 combine, Logan Thomas’ athleticism was on full display. I’ll get more into his results momentarily, but they compared very well to the other TEs in the class despite Thomas participating as a QB.

PlayerHeight (in)Weight40 Yard DashVertical JumpBroad Jump3 Cone20 Yard ShuttleArm LengthHand Size
Logan Thomas782484.6135.51187.054.1834.310.88
Eric Ebron762504.6032.0120N/AN/A33.2510.0
Jace Amaro772654.7433.01187.424.3034.09.0

Thomas was drafted in the 4th round by the Arizona Cardinals and made his NFL debut on October 5th, 2014, where he became the first QB since Neil O’Donnell in 1991 to have his first career completion go for at least 80 yards. That was his first and only NFL completion, as he was eventually released by the Cardinals the following September and bounced around between the Dolphins and Giants for the next year and a half. In November 2016, Thomas switched his position to TE and was signed to the Detroit Lions’ practice squad. Within days he was signed by the Buffalo Bills and placed on the 53-man roster, where he caught his first touchdown pass from the QB he once backed up at Virginia Tech, Tyrod Taylor. 

Thomas spent 2017 and 2018 with the Buffalo Bills, then returned to Detroit for 2019. He put up career highs in basically every offensive category and flashed enough on tape that Ron Rivera sought him out as a free agent, signing Thomas to a two-year contract.

YearGGSTARRECYDSYDS/
REC
TDs1DsCatch%Air YardsaDOTYACYAC/
REC
201712297679.61277.8%636.9111.57
20181231712776.40370.6%1469.1302.73
2019166281617310.811057.1%4437.5734.56
Total42854353179.121564.8%6527.761143.35

 

One of these things… is actually a lot like the others

 
Since Thomas hasn’t had the opportunity to put up a large enough sample size for us to analyze, I think the best way to compare him to other tight ends is by using his combine measurables. This is where he really stands out, so here’s a table with four current NFL tight ends and their combine results.

Can you guess who is who?

PlayerHeight (in)Weight40 Yard DashVertical JumpBroad Jump3 Cone20 Yard ShuttleArm LengthHand Size
Player A782644.6833.51197.184.4734.310.75
Player B762474.5235.01327.004.5933.139.25
Player C772554.6335.01247.094.4233.89.63
Logan Thomas782484.6135.51187.054.1834.310.88

If you’re unfamiliar with any of these terms and why they matter, I highly recommend this quick explanation of the combine workouts by ESPN’s Todd McShay. Basically, all of these players are average or above average at each of these metrics for the tight end position, with the exception of player B’s hand size which is a tad small. So, who are they?

Player A is Rob Gronkowski.

Player B is George Kittle.

Player C is Travis Kelce.

I was stunned to see how well Logan Thomas measured up compared to each of these guys. We all know Gronk is the best to ever play the position (apologies to Tony Gonzalez), while Kelce and Kittle are the best at the position at this moment. In fact, Thomas measures up extremely well compared to many of the tight ends that are currently being drafted way ahead of him.

Dashboard courtesy of the incredibly talented Alaina Cellini (@AlainaCellini on Twitter)

The ten players highlighted in red are the current Top 10 in PPR ADP, plus Mike Gesicki. There are a few things that really stick out to me from the data:

  • Mike Gesicki, holy cannoli. Draft him everywhere.
  • Hand Size and Arm Length aren’t necessarily great indicators of a player’s success, as good tight ends are scattered all over the place.
  • Scheme is incredibly important and can help overcome physical limitations. See Ertz, Zach, and Henry, Hunter.

Now, it’s important to reiterate that these measurables do not predict success by any means. I basically cherry-picked everyone included on the dashboard; There were plenty of guys with above-average size that just didn’t pan out at the NFL level and I left them all out. There were also a few guys who either ran faster or jumped higher but also never made it as an NFL tight end, and they got left out too. At least on paper, all signs here indicate that Thomas at least has the natural ability to be a great player.

Natural abilities mean nothing until they’re actually used on the field, and we’ve had a few opportunities to see Thomas’ athleticism in his career to this point. Intangibles are just as important, if not more important, than a player’s measurables. It’s tough to judge a player’s intangibles when he doesn’t have a lot of NFL footage to review, but there are a few highlight videos of Thomas on Youtube and one play in particular sticks out to me in every single one:
 

On this play, Thomas ran full speed toward the end zone, had to spin around backward, catch the pass and still get two feet in bounds. He made an incredible effort on the play and came down with the catch despite the fact that he probably ran the route wrong and could have had an easier time catching the ball if he turned the other way. I’m not worried about that, because it’s coachable and according to Ron Rivera he’s a very coachable player. Here’s a quote courtesy of Nicki Jhabvala at the Washington Post:

“The interesting thing is, the guy’s really only been a tight end for, what, three seasons now? You see the growth,” Coach Ron Rivera said last week. “You see him going out there and learning, picking things up. I love his effort. I love how hard he works. I love the accountability. When he makes a mistake, he goes right over to [tight ends coach Pete Hoener] and they talk about it. And he tells me he was wrong — ‘I did this and this’ — and they get it corrected. That’s what you want from a veteran guy.”

How many other tight ends can make this play? Probably not many. Spend some time coaching him up, teaching him proper techniques and he shouldn’t have to make an acrobatic catch there – he might even be able to run over the corner and punch it into the end zone instead of falling out of bounds.

When it comes to blocking, Thomas is also already a capable blocker, where he can use his size and strength to stifle an opposing pass rusher.
 

And if you watched that Youtube video I linked to, you would see that Thomas isn’t afraid to initiate contact and falls forward on nearly every play. These traits lead me to believe he’s going to have no problem putting up solid YAC numbers.

So he’s got the size, the athleticism, and looks to have the intangibles, however there are three important and often overlooked aspects of playing in the NFL that many draft busts don’t have the luxury of receiving in their careers: Good coaching, a favorable scheme, and opportunity. I’m here to tell you Logan Thomas will have all three of these in 2020.

 

New year, new LT

 
When we talk about Washington’s offensive scheme we’re really talking about new Offensive Coordinator Scott Turner. The son of Norv Turner was the Quarterbacks Coach for Carolina last season until Week 14 when his father was fired and he took over the OC job. The four games that followed are the only games that Scott has called as OC in his career, which is an incredibly small sample size but we’ll take a look at them anyway.

In those four games, Carolina tight ends were targeted on 19% of passing plays with an average depth of target (aDOT) of 9.1 yards. Anything over 7 is good for a tight end, so this tells us that Thomas should work downfield often in a Scott Turner offense.

Keep in mind that Carolina has the best running back in the NFL in Christian McCaffrey, who received 27.6% of the targets on his own in those four games. Washington doesn’t have anyone in the backfield who will come anywhere close to that level of target share, so there should be more targets to be had at both TE and WR this season.

New Washington head coach Ron Rivera was also with the Panthers from 2011-2019 before getting canned at the same time as Norv Turner. While Rivera has always been a defensive-minded coach, he did have an athletic tight end in Carolina whose athletic profile is similar to Logan Thomas. That guy is Greg Olsen, and he was a monster during his tenure in Carolina.

In nine seasons under Rivera, tight ends were targeted 24.3% of the time on offense, led by Olsen of course. Notably, running backs were targeted 19.2% of the time and that’s thanks in large part to Christian McCaffrey yet again, who had nearly half of all RB targets in only three seasons. Again, that number should decrease in Washington so there should be more targets available for tight ends in the offense.

It’s unclear how much influence Rivera himself had on the offensive playcalling during his time in Carolina, but there is no doubt that he values an athletic tight end that is versatile and able to be used in any situation. That’s exactly what he had in Greg Olsen, and it’s again something he has in Logan Thomas.

Here’s Ron Rivera on why he sought out Logan Thomas, again courtesy of Nicki Jhabvala at the Washington Post:

“I had a chance to watch some pretty good tape on him when he was with Detroit, and we really felt that this is a guy who has the skill set we’re looking for to be one of our tight ends,” Rivera said. “We’re going to be a group that we’re going to use one tight end, two tight ends, maybe three tight ends just depending on circumstances, situations. He’s going to be lining up in the down position; he’s going to be lining up in the up position. He’s got enough athleticism that he can be dynamic. We’re pretty excited about who he is.”

There’s a lot of coach speak in that quote that means nothing, but there’s a couple of good pieces of information in there. First, Rivera watched enough tape on Thomas and was impressed enough that he went out and signed him to a $6 million contract – that’s no chump change, and it’s a significant investment to make in a guy who is still new to the position. The other part of the quote that opened my eyes was their intention to use Thomas both in the down position and in the up position – this tells me they’re already scheming up ways to split him out wide as a receiver from time to time. Any snaps Thomas gets while split out wide are automatic target opportunities (since he won’t be blocking). Since the depth chart at wide receiver after Terry McLaurin is so thin, and the only other tight end on the roster is Jeremy Sprinkle, I’d imagine they’ll want to get Thomas involved as a receiver often and this quote from Rivera supports that.

I mentioned Greg Olsen earlier, and it turns out Thomas has been studying Olsen in his downtime. Here’s another quote, this time from Jaylon Thompson at 247Sports:

Thomas is excited about the opportunity. He said that he studied a former Rivera star in NFL veteran Greg Olsen. He wants to make a similar impact during the upcoming season in offensive coordinator Scott Turner’s system. “He’s very multiple with it,” Thomas said. “He gives you a lot of fluidity as well, as you’ve seen in Olsen in past years. He had a lot of big games and a lot of big years. That was a big draw for me, just being able to perform and produce in whatever role they give me. Their tight ends, they’re complete tight ends, and if I want to be a complete tight end, I think this is the best step for me to take, to come here with the staff we have.”

I love that he’s trying to replicate what Olsen did under Rivera in Carolina, since it’s been a proven winning formula and generated a ton of fantasy success.

Finally, in order for Thomas to score he needs the ball thrown his way. He’ll need to develop chemistry with QB Dwayne Haskins in order to earn his trust. Well, that box also appears to be checked off.

Haskins is looking Thomas’ way in the red zone, and for good reason. Thomas is the tallest receiving option on the team and should be a big target in the red zone, where Washington needs all the help it can get after ranking 27th in the league in red-zone scoring last season. Get. Hyped.

 

TL;DR – Logan Thomas has all of the tools in place to succeed in 2020

 
There’s a lot of speculation in this post, largely because when we’re talking about a newly converted TE and a first time OC there isn’t much data to make assumptions with. I’ve done my best to make a convincing argument that Logan Thomas will break out in the 2020 season based on his athletic profile and the situation he’s in with the Washington Football Team. Whether you believe me or not is one thing, but you can’t deny that Thomas is a shot in the dark at an extremely affordable price. His current ADP of 358, the 37th TE off the board, is essentially free in every league except the deepest of the deep. He was even available in our QB List Staff Dynasty league (with 25 man rosters) and I quickly snatched him up to replace my other 2020 sleeper choice, Albert Wilson, who opted out of the season.

You’ll likely be able to wait until the very last round of your draft if you want to take a flier on Thomas, but if not he’ll still probably be available in free agency for a few weeks since he’s not really on anybody’s radar. Tight end is shaping up to be a really deep position this season so there may not be as great of a need for a potential breakout candidate like Thomas, but you really should keep him in the back of your mind and pay attention to what he does to begin the season. The potential is certainly there, and if he’s used like tight ends have historically been used under Ron Rivera’s watch, and if he emerges as one of Dwayne Haskins’ favorite targets, he’s got a very good chance of reaching TE1 status by the end of the season.

 

Photo by Daniel Dunn/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

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