Should he end up on the offensive side of the ball, the Saints’ assistant wide receivers coach is a name longtime Tech fans should recognize. Ronald Curry was a star quarterback at North Carolina 1998-2001 and then played seven seasons in the NFL as a wide receiver. The fact that Curry successfully made the same transition as the one Thomas is trying to make can only be a positive for him. Moreover, like Giunta, Curry coached at the high school level, so teaching the basics shouldn’t be a problem.
The primary receivers coach also has a connection to Thomas, incidentally. Curtis Johnson was the Tulane coach 2012-15. Thomas led the Yellow Jackets to wins over the Green Wave in 2014 and 2015. Johnson has also coached at all three levels – high school, college and NFL and perhaps most notably was the Miami Hurricanes’ wide receivers coach 1996-2005, where he developed Andre Johnson, Santana Moss and Reggie Wayne, among others.
What Thomas brings are both tangible assets – speed, quickness and coordination, most prominently – and intangible qualities – dedication, football smarts, fearlessness – to give himself a shot. He’ll need patience, both from himself and the team, and ideally a plan from the team to develop him over more than just a few months.
He is also on a team that is willing to keep undrafted free agents, which also is an indication of the value that it places in finding and developing them. The team had four undrafted rookies on its initial 53-man roster in 2016 and four in 2015.
He’ll have to distinguish himself – the roster as of Monday lists seven cornerbacks, another six defensive backs and 11 wide receivers. Being able to contribute on special teams as a returner would obviously increase his value.
As an undrafted free agent, he likely won’t be high on the priority list for coaching time and practice repetitions. The Saints and coach Sean Payton have had a 7-9 record four of the past five seasons. Bringing along a player who may not be able to help them until 2018 won’t be their first objective. Thomas will have to learn quickly and take advantage of opportunities that will probably be limited.
A possible scenario would be one similar to Reynolds’, where the Saints stash him on the practice squad for a season, even two, before he’s ready for the NFL. But it’s also possible that the Saints will decide that the investment in the potential return is too great, or that his best simply isn’t good enough to overcome his size and lack of experience. Injuries could derail him.
But this much would seem certain. The Saints can expect his best.