The inaugural piece of the Spotlight Series shines on a player that is one of the most underrated Ravens of all time: Adalius Thomas. Thomas would go on to redefine what it meant to be a Raven as he would become one of the most versatile defenders in the history of Baltimore. Coming up from relative obscurity, Thomas would make the most out of every opportunity that he was given and would eventually become one of the most feared defenders in the league. Lining up at literally every position on defense, he was a tool that could be moved around to create mismatches and wreck havoc on opposing offenses. The first of the Spotlight Series goes to Thomas so that Ravens fans can fully recognize and pay homage to one of the most terrifying and multifaceted players in league history.
Adalius Thomas was drafted in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft out of the University of Southern Mississippi. As a sixth round pick, not much was expected out of the young linebacker. Sitting behind several established pass rushers, the only way Thomas could stick early on was to play a key role on special teams. That is something Thomas did, quickly carving out a niche for himself as a key special teamer. While he didn’t see much playing time on defense, he was quickly recognized as one of the best special teams player in the league, garnering Pro Bowl recognition in 2003. While the special teams recognition was deserved, it was clear he had immense talent and could be a true difference maker on defense if given the chance. He got that chance the following year when he was able to start all sixteen games. Making the most of his opportunity, Thomas registered eight sacks and tacked on an interception while forcing four fumbles. 2005 saw Thomas build on a stellar year, collecting nine sacks while registering three defensive touchdowns. It was clear the Ravens had a budding superstar in Thomas but it was in 2006 that he would make a true name for himself.
That year saw the Ravens boast one of the greatest defenses of all time. Under Rex Ryan and his “Organized Chaos,” Baltimore defenders unleashed pure hell on opposing offenses. One reason this defense was so successful was due to the play of Adalius Thomas. Rex Ryan placed a high premium on versatility and there was none more versatile than Thomas. Ryan used Thomas all over the field, placing him on the defensive line as a pass rusher, sitting him in the middle of the field as a roaming linebacker and even lining him up at cornerback and safety on occasion. Thomas could be counted on to play at an elite level anywhere on defense. Following 2006, Thomas’s contract expired with the Ravens and teams rushed to add the Pro Bowl pass rusher in free agency. He eventually ended up with the Patriots by way of a 5-year, $35 million contract. It was initially thought that if any team could maximize Thomas’s versatility outside of Baltimore, it could certainly be defensive mastermind Bill Belichick. Unfortunately, Thomas never quite lived up to his contract and after three relatively uneventful seasons in Nee England, he was released and quietly retired.
The former #96 should be mentioned as one of the most impactful defenders in team history. In his ten years with the Ravens and Patriots, Thomas accumulated 518 tackles, 53 sacks, 15 forced fumbles, 6 fumble recoveries, 7 interceptions, and 6 total touchdowns. Lining up at every level of the defense, Thomas was a true versatile force that could make a play no matter where he was on the field. It is not often that a linebacker can lineup at outside corner and NOT be targeted. Thomas and the respect and fear of every quarterback in the league. The case could be made that Thomas was one of the first true “positionless” defenders in the modern NFL and it is hard to find anyone who claims that role that can match his production.
Adalius Thomas was the epitome of a Ravens defender. A late round pick who received time and coaching, he would blossom to become a special teams contributor and then a key cog for the vaunted Ravens defense. Ravens defenders are infamous for their ability to handle multiple roles on a complicated and intricate defense and no other player in team history handled his versatile role as well as Thomas. Had his career spanned a few more years with a bit more production away from Baltimore, Thomas may be talked about as a potential Hall of Famer today. Instead, time distances fans’ memories from the impact he made for the team and he is rarely brought up as one of the greatest players in team history. This series was inspired in part by the desire to recognize Thomas’s place in the annals of the Baltimore Ravens. Thomas was a true Ravens defender and the mid-2000’s were dominated by this fierce, versatile warrior and his name should rightfully be revered.