It has been a heck of a year so far for Chad Thomas.
The defensive end suffered a neck injury during a team drill in August and had to be removed on a backboard. Thankfully, the injury proved to be a neck sprain and Thomas recovered quickly enough to make the team’s opening day roster.
Playing time was scarce through the season’s first 10 games as Thomas was never going to supplant starting defensive ends Myles Garrett or Vernon Olivier for significant time on the field.
That started to change in recent weeks, however, as first Olivier went down with a knee injury against the Denver Broncos on November 3, and then Garrett was handed an indefinite suspension following the November 14 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Thomas suddenly found himself thrust into the starter’s role and he took full advantage of the opportunity on Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.
The second-year defensive end played 43 defensive snaps, the most of anyone along Cleveland’s defensive line, finishing with five tackles, including two tackles for loss, and earning praise from Pro Football Focus as the team’s highest-graded player on defense:
The #Browns highest-graded player* on defense vs. #FinsUp was Chad Thomas (89.9). Among 51 qualifying WK12 edge defenders only Khalil Mack posted a higher grade.— PFF CLE Browns (@PFF_Browns) November 25, 2019
*min. 25 snaps pic.twitter.com/C1FqOXzSRv
It has been quite a positive turnaround for a player who was only active for four games during his rookie season after being selected in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Thomas now has 18 tackles on the season, including five tackles for loss, three sacks and a fumble recovery.
The Browns will welcome Larry Ogunjobi back to the field for this week’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers after Ogunjobi served a one-game suspension. And Vernon is, at the very least, another day closer to returning from his injury.
Thomas can’t replace the production that Garrett was giving the Browns, but with reinforcements on the way, if he can continue the improvement he has shown the past few games, Thomas can lessen the blow of Garrett’s suspension a little bit.