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Big expectations for Cardinals’ Cam Thomas

Thomas will be counted on heavily with departures of J.J. Watt and Zach Allen

NFL: New England Patriots at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Entering the 2022 NFL Draft, the Arizona Cardinals had many needs with pass rusher being right on top of their list.

However, the first two rounds came and went but the Cardinals still did not select a pass rusher.

Instead, Arizona traded the No. 23 overall pick to the Baltimore Ravens for wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and used the No. 55 overall pick on Colorado State tight end Trey McBride.

Cardinals had the opportunity to draft more highly-touted prospects such Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson II, Purdue’s George Karlaftis, and Penn State’s Arnold Ebiketie in the earlier rounds but opted to wait until the No. 87 pick to address the position with the selection of San Diego State’s Cam Thomas. Based on his limited reps last season, he was well worth the wait.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In 155 pass rush snaps, he created 19 quarterback pressures and three sacks according to Pro Football Focus. This equates to slightly above 12 percent of his pass rush snaps turning to pressures, which is higher than any of the three prospects mentioned earlier in a limited sample.

He was a backup on Vance Joseph’s defense but is expected to be a starter under new defensive coordinator Nick Rallis.

And it seems Thomas has put in the work this offseason. On Vance Joseph’s defense last season, he was asked to play at around 255 pounds as an outside linebacker. In a recent media conference with the second-year pro, Thomas said he is now much closer to his draft weight at 272 pounds.

His increased playing weight should make him a much more versatile piece on their front seven as either a defensive end or a defensive tackle in certain packages on a 3-4 or 4-3 defense.

One thing to keep in mind about Thomas was his stout play in his final year at San Diego State when he had 71 tackles, 20.5 tackles-for-loss, and 10.5 sacks. He was one of the best pass rushers in college football in 2021.

And his standout performance was further emphasized that year well beyond the usual statistics:

With J.J. Watt retired and Zach Allen signing with the Denver Broncos in free agency, Cam Thomas will be counted on heavily to shoulder the workload as one of the Cardinals’ top pass rushers on the trenches. He has very big shoes to fill but this is Thomas’ opportunity to shine as a starter and one that he is prepared for.

Syndication: Arizona Republic Patrick Breen/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK