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Thomas ready for NFL draft

April 19, 2002|By ERIC GALVAN

Sports Writer

In less than 24 hours Imperial native Robert Thomas will know exactly where his NFL fate lies as the 2002 NFL college draft kicks off at 9 a.m. Saturday.

All the rumors, hearsay and speculation will come to an end and the former UCLA star linebacker will begin a quest that he's been looking forward to for most of his life.

"I've just been taking it day-by-day. For me I'm really not even worried about it. I'm just relaxing right now and enjoying the moment," said the 21-year-old Thomas. "It's a good feeling knowing that come Saturday I'm gonna have a job. And it doesn't matter where I go, as long as I get drafted and make it into the NFL."


While the 6-foot, 235-pound Thomas is fairly modest about where he'll go, he brings to the draft a resumé befitting a first-rounder.

During the 2001 campaign at UCLA, Thomas finished with 111 tackles and 26 tackles for loss, a new school single-season record. He was named Bruin defensive MVP, was named a first-team All-America and was a finalist for the Dick Butkus award, awarded to the nation's best collegiate linebacker.

With the two-day draft kicking off Saturday, Thomas' agent David Dunn has predicted that his client will go anywhere between the 20th pick in the first round to the 45th pick (13th in the second round).

"You know, I try not to get caught up in all that stuff like predictions and mock drafts. Wherever I go, I'll be happy," said Thomas. "(Today) I'll just keep my mind off it. And Saturday I'm just gonna wake up at about 6 a.m., go work out at about 6:30 and then go play some golf with my agent and not really worry about anything."

Thomas really doesn't have anything to worry about. He's received phone calls from a handful of NFL teams, met with representatives from others and worked out with a number of other clubs.

Earlier this week Thomas and former UCLA teammate, running back DeShaun Foster, worked out for assistant coaches of the Oakland Raiders. And Thursday, Thomas and his parents, Stan Sr. and Elizabeth, had dinner with representatives from the Dallas Cowboys.

According to sources close to the Cowboys, Dallas, after using the sixth overall pick in the first round on either a receiver or safety, would likely trade up from the fifth pick in the second round to a later pick in the first round to take Thomas.

Thomas' older brother Stan Jr., the 20th overall pick by the Chicago Bears in 1990, has spoken to representatives from the Cowboys, including general manager Stephen Jones, and verified the reports.

"We've talked to them and they told us that if someone calls before they do in the first round about Robert to let them know because they want to trade up and take him," said Stan Thomas Jr., who played five years in the NFL for Chicago and the Houston Oilers as an offensive tackle. "But it's not just the Cowboys; the Rams, the Patriots, Packers, Jets and Raiders have all shown a lot of interest in him."

That brings up the question of where exactly Thomas will play on the field.

He was a standout middle linebacker for UCLA, but has shown the quickness and versatility to play weakside linebacker.

Another team that has shown interest is the New York Giants, who wouldn't play Thomas at linebacker. Instead, because of his quickness and speed (4.47 40-yard time), the Giants said they would move Thomas to strong safety.

"Robert is so versatile that he can play those three positions, safety, middle linebacker or weakside. But at this point, I think about 70 percent of the teams that are interested in him would use him at the Will (weakside)," said Stan Thomas. "In my opinion, I think if he went to St. Louis, he'd be best playing the Mike (middle linebacker) and if he went to the Raiders or Patriots, he'd fit in best playing the Will."

The Raiders hold two picks in the first round (Nos. 21 and 23) and will more than likely use one of those picks on a linebacker. Most experts predict the Raiders will use one of the their draft picks on Northwestern outside linebacker Napoleon Harris.

In Stan Thomas Jr.'sestimation, using the pick on Harris doesn't make much sense.

In the offseason the Raiders signed free-agent strongside linebacker Bill Romanowski to a seven-year contract. Thomas figures Romanowski will more than likely hold down the strongside position for at least another two or three years, the position Harris played in college.

So knowing his brother would be best used as a weakside linebacker, Stan Thomas figures the Raiders taking Robert Thomas makes more sense than selecting Harris.

"If you look at it, they'll have Romanowski at strongside, Greg Biekert at middle and Robert as the weakside backer. It just makes sense," said Stan Thomas Jr. "I think Rob should go to the Raiders as a Will. But if the Raiders pass him up, then I think he'll go to St. Louis as a Mike. But my prediction is the Oakland Raiders will take Robert Thomas in the first round."

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