“It’s been hard, going to military school, redshirting and Florida State pulling my scholarship,” said 2014 NFL draft prospect Khyri Thornton in an interview with Mark Inabinett of al.com. “Coming from where I came from, I’m thankful to be in the position I’m in now.”
Indeed, Thornton has come a long way. The former Southern Miss defensive tackle has not only faced hardships off the football field, but he witnessed many during his time as a Golden Eagle.
Imagine playing for a program that is accustomed to having winning seasons every year, and after two successful years, your team goes 1-23 over the next two years. For Thornton, it was very discouraging. However, despite the team’s inability to win many games, he made his presence known on the football field throughout the majority of his sophomore and junior seasons.
“Yeah I went to Southern Miss, and the last two years were bad,” Thornton said. “But if you can play, the eye in the sky don’t lie. People will come find you if you can play.”
Thornton definitely has a great understanding for the game and is very talented. After playing in the National Football League Player Association Collegiate Bowl in California, Thornton raised the eyebrows of many draft analysts as he was named the top pro prospect at the all-star game. But how well will he fit in a professional scheme and what true position does he most align with in the NFL are questions that many draft analysts are pondering.
He has many tools and skill sets that can be polished and transformed at the NFL level. The 6-foot-3, 304-pound defensive tackle has a strong upper body, thick lower half and a combination of speed, lateral quickness and a good motor. These are good attributes to have in discussion about playing at the next level.
He has the desired traits, but they need to be perfected. If he continues to add strength to his lower body, he will add an additional dimension to his game instead of relying solely on the strength of his arms and upper body to get off blocks and make an impact on the ball.
Thornton has a quick first step, but what does this mean when you put him in comparison with some some of the best and experienced NFL defensive linemen? It means that some offensive linemen who can withstand his jolt and initial stand aspect will cause him to have troubles, either forcing him to use additional moves beyond his upper body or shutting him down completely.
He has the tendency to stand tall, giving his chest away to offensive linemen as well. The more he can stay low in conjunction with his quick initial step will determine if he can become a productive defensive lineman in the NFL.
In regard to stopping the run, when his pad level is down and he maintains leverage, he can be disruptive. He is comfortable with stopping the play in the backfield by shooting through gaps when he finds them. When he does not, he faces trouble, usually allowing a runner to have a wide running lane.
Again, as he gets stronger and betters his pad level inconsistencies, he will become a better overall player against the run. However, most draft analysts say he is best suited to play further away from the center of the line.
Thornton has the ability to create pressure on the quarterback when pass rushing thanks in account to his quickness and ability to shoot gaps. However, there are times when he is in position to make a play, but he does not finish.
He tends go at the opponent’s feet whenever he thinks he’s close enough to them, resulting to missed big play opportunities such as recording sacks and getting tackles for loss.
He has a chance to get drafted in the fifth or sixth round. Analysts believe he would work best as a rotational five-technique in an aggressive, zone blitzing scheme with teams such as the New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens or Pittsburgh Steelers. A five-technique player is a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme, a position he has never played.
Overall, he has the skills to be successful, but must refine his skill set to be a more complete player if he wants to last long as a future NFL player. In less than two weeks, we will see which team will get the opportunity to further embrace him and make him a better player.