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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Tags: Cam Thomas NFL Free Agency Pittsburgh Steelers Steve McClendon

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