Clemson has had plenty of talented defensive ends in the past who were late bloomers. Vic Beasley, Shaq Lawson, Kevin Dodd, Andre Branch, Da’Quan Bowers and Gaines Adams come to mind.
And though they were all late bloomers, by the time their third year rolled around the proverbial light bulb came on. By the end of their senior year, they all became All-American and/or first- or second-round draft picks for the NFL.
Is this the year it all comes together for Xavier Thomas, who will be a true junior in 2020?
Next to Bowers, Thomas came in with one of the best set of credentials in Clemson history. The former 5-star was rated as the No. 1 defensive end in the country coming out of high school and the No. 3 overall player according to 247 Sports. Known for his size, speed and physicality, Thomas was an All-American at IMG Academy in Florida.
Though Thomas has shown flashes of his potential here and there, his success in high school has not completely transferred to the college game.
During his freshman season, with future NFL players Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant playing in front of him, Thomas was productive. He tallied 43 tackles as a reserve, including 10.5 for loss, 3.5 of which were sacks. He also broke up a couple of passes and had six quarterback pressures.
Of course, the highlight moment for Thomas during his freshman campaign came against Syracuse, when he came off the edge untouched late in the game and de-cleated quarterback Eric Dungy.
In the national championship game, against Alabama, he registered three tackles, including a half sack.
Expectations were high for Thomas in 2019, maybe a little too high. He never really took over the position like everyone thought with Ferrell and Bryant moving on to the NFL.
He missed three games due to injury, but he was still named as a third-team All-ACC selection. He finished the season with 31 tackles, including 8.0 tackles for loss and two sacks. And though those numbers were good, Thomas never did have that breakout game or season everyone was counting on.
“He is still grading as a winner, what we call a winner,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said during the 2019 season. “He still isn’t consistent enough, but he is right there, he is right on that line. He is a little over and sometimes a little under in his minuses.”
However, Swinney feels Thomas is right where he needs to be in terms of his development and maturation.
“He’s probably ahead of Isaiah Simmons (in his second year), but more probably like an Isaiah as a redshirt sophomore,” Swinney said. “He is unbelievably productive. I mean like production points. He makes plays even when he is in the wrong spot.”
Swinney mentioned Thomas got a minus on the game winning stop against North Carolina. He said Thomas was in the wrong spot and did no execute the play. However, Thomas still was able to make a play on North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell, stopping him short of the goal line on a 2-point play that could have possibly won the game for UNC.
“Just the little things on where his eyes are supposed to be and just be more in detail, but he is made of the right stuff,” Swinney said.
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