Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Free Agency: What Can Cam Thomas Bring To The Pittsburgh Steelers?


Sep 9, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers defensive tackle Cam Thomas (92) celebrates after an interception on the first play of the game during the first half against the Houston Texans at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers have made their next big splash in NFL free agency, literally.

6-foot-4, 330-pound nose tackle Cam Thomas agreed to a two-year deal with the black and gold Friday.

What is the impact of this signing? Let’s examine.

First off, I’m sure many people may not know who Cam Thomas is.

Well, once upon a time Thomas was hailed as a prospect and was considered the third-best nose tackle in the 2010 draft behind the Arizona Cardinals’ Dan Williams and free agent Terrence Cody.

Thomas didn’t have a high production rate at North Carolina, although he did have great athletic ability and benefited from a good performance at the Senior Bowl, as well as a weak nose tackle draft class.

Thomas slipped in the draft from his second-round prediction, eventually being selected by the San Diego Chargers in the fifth round. After one year, he won the starting job having his most productive season with 20 combined tackles and four sacks. His next two years were similar, but he had no sacks. He also lost playing time to fellow defensive lineman Sean Lissemore.

With all that said, what does Thomas bring to the Steelers?

I’m going to make this clear, Thomas is not a starting nose tackle in the NFL. He lacks the ability to push the pocket coupled with a limited ability to rush the quarterback. Popular analytical football website Pro Football Focus ranked him as the seventh-worst interior defensive lineman in terms of rushing the QB.

While a nose tackle may not need to be a sack master, above all he still needs to collapse the pocket and also hold one or two linemen so the edge rushers can attack the quarterback. That is why nose tackle is so important in a 3-4 defense. Thomas at best is a rotation player that can play one or two downs and a limited number of snaps.

Despite this, it doesn’t mean he can’t be productive for the Steelers. Thomas is a big body who if not overused can be incredibly productive. With Week 1 being the anomaly, his best games of the 2013 NFL season were when he didn’t start. Furthermore, he’s an upgrade from Hebron Fanguopo as a backup and provides good depth for the Steelers if former Bills defensive end Alex Carrington doesn’t sign with Pittsburgh.

This signing does more for future moves, as this signifies a possible shift of former nose tackle Steve McLendon to defensive end, his natural position. However, this does not mean that McLendon is completely done with nose tackle. McLendon will be a sort of hybrid defensive lineman during his transition who will still play some downs at nose tackle, but more at defensive end.

With the latest transactions and draft news from the Steelers I have an idea about what Colbert and Tomlin are planning behind the scenes that I will reveal in a future post.

As for Thomas, I hope the Steelers don’t believe Thomas is the replacement for Casey Hampton because he just isn’t. He is a good rotational defensive lineman that in small spurts is highly productive. When he plays many downs his impact decreases heavily.

Overall, I like the signing as long as the Steelers don’t overuse him. If that’s the case and he gets over 20 snaps a game, this is going to be another mediocre season. Frankly, I don’t know about you, but I can’t tolerate another 8-8 record.

Was signing Cam Thomas a good move?

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Do you agree or disagree? Comment below and make your voice heard.

Tags: Cam Thomas NFL Free Agency Pittsburgh Steelers Steve McClendon

  • William Cross

    Haha, I’ve always prefered to let the Steelers management decide these things; but hey, if children want to opine online, go for it!

    • Matt Gajtka

      Thanks for the click!

    • http://cityofchampionssports.com/ Josh Svetz

      1. I’m an adult.
      2. I think you were attempting to say, “if children want to have an opinion online, go for it!”.
      Regardless, thanks for the click all you did was help me.

  • [email protected]

    Josh, we are soooooo spoiled as Stillers fans. 8-8 is a lot better than most in down years.
    Imagine being a Raiders fan!!! I wouldn’t trust that organization to go to the bathroom by themselves – I mean look at the Roger Saffold fiasco. Jesus.
    Anyway, agreed on Thomas’s capability/usefulness to us – spot/rotational.
    I know you’re probably tired of you and I agreeing so profusely that WE MUST TAKE A TRUE NT IN THIS DRAFT and move McClendon to DE. It’s so obvious that I laugh that more people don’t see it.
    Then, like a Stephon Tuitt type in round 2 after we get our CB in round 1.
    Then Donte Moncrief at WR (tall and real fast) in rd 3.
    Gotta get that NT though.

    • http://cityofchampionssports.com/ Josh Svetz

      8-8 may be better than most teams. However, I’ve always had the philosophy in sports that once greatness falls off you need to bottom out. When your team sucks for a season or two they can revaluate their roster, free some cap space and draft high-level prospects. Now, with organizations like the Jaguars,Raiders and Browns (haha) they have bad ownership, coaches and GMs and they STAY at the bottom. The Steelers don’t have those issues. For everyone that criticizes Colbert he has had some great drafts. Yes, he has had some busts, but there are much worse GMs out there. Same for Tomlin, there are much worse coaches out there, its not easy to find a successful NFL head coach. Point is, I want the Steelers to be great again and 8-8 every year will not make that happen. I get that they want to maximize Ben’s career, but they need to do what’s best for the future so when the Broncos and Patriots fall off they will be the next ones up to dominate the AFC and add another Lombardi trophy.

    • http://cityofchampionssports.com/ Josh Svetz

      A true nose tackle is a must, haha. I think the problem is the Steelers know they need another corner but also need a nose tackle. I’m not sure if they are in love with any of the nose tackles. However, they do love Justin Gilbert, I do too. I hope he’s there to pick. I like Tuitt a lot. I don’t think he will be available late in the 2nd round, if he is. Awesome. Moncrief is interesting, truthfully I need to look in to him a little more to make a judgment. As much as I want them to draft a nose tackle, I’m not sure if they like the class, if Nix keeps his weight under control and the team doctors think he can play, I could see a trade down if Gilbert isn’t available with them taking Nix.
      Thanks for the feedback and continuing to read!

  • gdubb

    We just have to admit were rebuilding why is it we always lose to the Raiders chiefs and all the weak teams, yes we beat the Browns every year, but the afc north has always been weak year In and year out once in a while our division does ok.if we dont get rid of those hideous bumble bee uniforms I jumping ship I’m sick of being the laughing stock of the nfl

    • Blind Mellow Jelly

      What a stupid reason for finding a new team to root for.

    • http://cityofchampionssports.com/ Josh Svetz

      Well, they have to admit they’re rebuilding. They won’t though. I think with a few moves they can make the playoffs, unfortunately they won’t be a Super Bowl contender till the Pats and Broncos fall off.

  • bk

    I look t the moves Denver and NE have made, knowing the window for another SB with Manning and Brady is limited… The same could be said with Ben. The Steelers have a limited amount of draft picks and I just don’t see them getting much better based on recent history of the draft choices.. So far they have lost a lot more than they have signed in FA. Not that anyone they lost was a world beater..or should I say Woriilds beater? haha… anyway, Denver and NE know they need to move now, Pitt just doesn’t get it..

    • http://cityofchampionssports.com/ Josh Svetz

      I think they get it. They just don’t do things that way.. Also, they don’t REALLY have that cap room everyone is talking about. Woodley’s 8 mil comes off the books in June, not now. Also, free agents don’t see championship contender in the Black and Gold and force the Steelers to overpay another thing they don’t do. Even Mike Mitchell’s deal is a 5 million guaranteed deal. They don’t bring out the check book, that’s not the way they do things. They have whiffed on some draft picks and have let needs go untended and its finally starting to catch up with them.

  • floorme

    LeBeau is a genius and mastered the 3-4– Tomlin as a coach knows and I believe wants to ultimately go to the 4-3– — Maybe LeBeau will create a new defense– the 3 1/2 – 4 1/2 defense-?? — Does anyone else find Tomlin’s deflective vernacular and sentence building a bit tirering? I could stomach it much better at 12-4 and even 11-5– but at 8 – 8 AGAIN– he needs to know he’s not coaching at HARVARD–

    While the ROONEY’S have shown patience before– it looks like Tomlin is taking advantage of the Ronney’s career generocity history–

    • http://cityofchampionssports.com/ Josh Svetz

      I’m not a huge fan of Tomlin, but before we go trying to run the man out of town, lets look at this without emotion and objectively and say, ” who is better?” Is there a coach available that Rooney would bring in that gives the Steelers a better chance to win. If you can’t come up with at least five possibilities that make sense, you keep the coach. That’s why Marvin Lewis is still the Bengals head coach. That’s also why the Browns keep striking out on coaches, they fire them quick, though Chud was, well a chud. I hate Tomlin’s deflective nature, but is there really a better option?

      • floorme

        I’m not suggesting a change at head coach yet- under score : YET
        - However I do believe that he and Kevin Colbert have done so much wrong; on draft day starting in 2008–
        2008 was a complete waste and loss to the organization- The picks; using our perfect 20/20 hindsight’ reveals that year as AL DAVIS worthy!
        Here is 2008 picks-
        RB Rashard Mendenhall (first round), WR Limas Sweed (second), LBBruce Davis (third), OT Tony Hills (fourth), QB Dennis Dixon (fifth), LB Mike Humpal (sixth), S Ryan Mundy (sixth) – REALLY? THIS WAS COLBERT/TOMLIN- They thought these guys were STEELERS? REALLY? well everyone has a mulligan year right? SO it had to get better in 2009 , RIGHT? WELL actually– NO

        2009-All of our picks- GONE

        2010- better than 2009, but not STEELER WORTHY

        2011- Embarassing

        2012- WTF = Q: who is evaluating talent– A)Colbert AND TOMLIN-

        TIC TOCK– TIC TOCK– Coach Tomlin– both you and Mr. Colbert are on the clock—-

        • http://cityofchampionssports.com/ Josh Svetz

          I know you didn’t include 07, but that was a great class engineered by Colbert and Tomlin. Timmons,Woodley,Spaeth, and to a lesser degree Gay,McBean and Sepulveda was a good class.

          Ok, 08 was bad. Sweed was one of the worst picks of the decade by the Steelers, Dixon was a risk, but in the fifth round they made the call. Mike Humpal, I honestly don’t remember him, he’s a sixth round pick anyway. Mundy actually contributed and is still in the league, not bad for the sixth round. Bruce Davis, complete bust, couldn’t play 3-4 or anywhere. Mendenhall, well once upon a time he produced three productive seasons when healthy. Then his body broke down and he got hurt. I never loved Mendenhall, but he did produce. He wasn’t tough enough and he didn’t have the pain tolerance to handle the NFL hits for future seasons. Runningbacks are tough to evaluate. I think Mendenhall wasn’t a bust, but he wasn’t Bettis. Most Running backs don’t play long in the league. It was a bad class but overstated in awfulness.

          2009, they drafted very good players: they just didn’t keep them. Keenan Lewis and Kraig Urbik are very productive for the saints and bills. Wallace was great, they just couldn’t keep him. He sucks now, but he was really good for us: ProBowler. Ziggy, well Ziggy wasn’t a 3-4 defensive end to begin with. Not a bust, but not a good pick. He’s an excellent example of the Steelers trying to make someone into something they are not instead of drafting guys who fit the system. That one is on Colbert and Tomlin. Overall though, if they actually keep their picks from 09, they wouldn’t be here right now.

          2010, Pouncey was a great pick, Worilds was a great pick, Antonio Brown in the sixth? Wow. Sanders was productive, he just isn’t a 2. he’s a slot, 4th guy maybe 3rd. He will do wonders with the Broncos if he stays healthy. Dwyer wasn’t bad value for the sixth round, same with Sylvester in the fifth. Gibson in the 4th awful pick, Chris Scott awful pick, the rest, awful picks, but they were in the later rounds. Steeler worthy? eh,

          09 and 10 were good classes, they just didn’t keep their players…

          2011. Cam Heyward, great pick, Gilbert, bad pick… Cortez Allen great pick. Curtis Brown bad pick, Keith Williams bad pick, and Baron Batch bad pick. As for Carter, ok pick. This was not a good draft. They whiffed on Gilbert and Brown, a 2nd rounder and a third rounder. However, Cortez Allen makes up a bit for the Brown pick. I agree bad draft, but not completely awful.

          2012, This one was a joke. I agree, I hated the Mike Adams pick from the getgo. The Tamu pick was also terrible. The other ones after Tamu came in the 7th rounf so.. duh. Beachum and Paulsen are ok for the 7th I guess…Decastro is excellent though, if he stays healthy…

          Too early for 2013, all I can say is, Jarvis Jones better get going, he’s looking like a
          bust right now…

          The biggest problem with these drafts is not filling the needs effectively and whiffing when they do attempt to fill the need. Not as awful as I thought or you say, but not Steeler worthy.

          Not keeping the 09 guys plus the disaster of 2012 has made this draft basically a do or die situation.

          Yeah, Tick Tock haha, despite all ive said, it doesn’t mean there weren’t many mistakes made that have come back and bit Colbert and Tomlin.

          Basically speaking, you can draft all the talent you want, but if you can’t keep it, well you’re screwed, you just become a feeder for other teams…

          Thank you for the feedback, quite engaging.

  • David Dedo

    Josh,

    I agree with you. He’s not a “franchise” NT. We don’t have one of those on the roster. The question is if there’s on of those in this year’s draft. Nix is rated the highest NT, but there are questions. If he’s available after round 1, the Steelers might bite, but I don’t think they see him as first round material.

    The Steelers, I believe, will draft a NT somewhere in the draft, but it might be someone who they see as having potential.

    • http://cityofchampionssports.com/ Josh Svetz

      100% agree with you! I really don’t see a franchise NT in this years draft yet. I have to look at Nix more as well as Ellis. I also have another prospect who is intriguing, but more on him later. I think the Steelers are in a tough spot and its their fault. They should have selected a nose tackle or signed a nose tackle in the last 3 years when they knew Hampton’s time was coming to an end. As long as Lebeau is the defensive coordinator they will run a 3-4, its sad that they aren’t getting Lebeau the pieces to run his defense to perfection. No matter what, they are going to have to sacrifice one position in the draft to fill the holes. I’m just not sure which ones.