The New England Patriots’ 2020 undrafted free agent class features two high-ceiling Miami products with character concerns.
Wide receiver Jeff Thomas and edge rusher Trevon Hill, who signed with the Patriots one day after the 2020 NFL Draft concluded, both were dismissed by programs during their collegiate careers.
Here’s a closer look at each player:
Jeff Thomas, WR, Miami
Thomas is extremely talented but comes with some serious off-the-field baggage. The 5-foot-9, 170-pound slot receiver/return man was suspended multiple times for team rules violations by former Miami head coach Mark Richt and eventually dismissed from the program in 2018 before being reinstated by new coach Manny Diaz.
From the Miami Herald:
“Thomas, a 5-8 7/8, 170-pound speedster who left the Hurricanes after his junior season, is the Cane who teased fans with his significant athletic gifts but disappointed them with bad choices that led to difficult situations. …
“According to a source, Thomas had clashed with former wide receivers coach Ron Dugans, angrily left the team without attending meetings or practices, and then supposedly signed a Big Ten tender of financial aid with the intention of playing for the University of Illinois, Illini coach Lovie Smith said at the time.”
Thomas’ troubles didn’t end under Diaz. He was suspended for two games last season for another unspecified team rules infraction.
If the Patriots can rein him in, Thomas could be a dangerous weapon both on offense and in the return game. He averaged 22.0 yards per catch as a true freshman in 2017 (17 for 374 and two touchdowns) and 16.1 as a sophomore (35-563-3) while also impressing on punt and kick returns (averages of 24.6 and 26.0 in 2018, respectively). He ran a 4.45-second 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine, choosing not to participate in agility drills.
?Obviously with Jeff, he?s got the speed that you can?t coach,” Diaz told the Miami Herald before the draft. “He?s got a chance to blow past the coverage and make things happen. He has made plays in the return game throughout his career. You know the NFL is always looking for explosive players. And explosive plays correlate to wins and losses. The NFL is a league with so much parity, that?s why they?ll always have a value for a guy like Jeff, because he is a guy that can create an explosive play.”
Thomas’ numbers dipped in 2019, however (31-379-3), and his history of insubordination makes him a surprising Patriots pickup, especially in an offseason that could feature little in-person instruction from New England coaches. He confirmed the signing on Twitter.
— Jeff Thomas (@theregoes4) April 26, 2020
Trevon Hill, DE, Miami
Hill began his college career at Virginia Tech but was kicked off the team early in his redshirt junior season following an in-game argument with a coach. This cratered his draft stock, as The Athletic’s Dane Brugler reported Hill had “first round potential” as a pass rusher before being dismissed by Hokies head coach Justin Fuente.
Before his dismissal, Hill had been on pace for a career year, tallying 3 1/2 sacks and 4 1/2 tackles for loss in three games.
“The coaches got tired of his antics,” one NFL scout told Brugler, who described Hill’s off-field red flags as “a history of immature behavior.” “He?s one of the best rushers in the country, and they thought they were a better team without him — that says a lot.?
Hill stuck around at Virginia Tech to earn his degree, then joined the Hurricanes as a graduate transfer before the 2019 season. Once there, he displayed maturity and quickly took on a leadership role, according to Diaz.
“Trevon is another guy who is dynamic off the edge, a tough, high-motor player, and a really good guy to have in your locker room,?? the Hurricanes coach told the Miami Herald. ?He?s a guy that really has an understanding of making the guys around him feel like they?re important. Trevon is a guy that a bunch of teams would be excited to have. …
“He?s very mature. Without being (at Virginia Tech) I can?t say exactly what happened at the old school. But he became a guy that during the course of the year was a captain of our football team. And with a new guy, that?s not easy to do.”
Playing a limited role (38.6 percent of snaps) in Miami’s defense, Hill tallied 4 1/2 sacks and 9 1/2 tackles for loss last season, then ran a 4.89-second 40 with a 113-inch broad jump and 28-inch vert at 6-foot-3, 248 pounds. Evaluators peg him as a stand-up outside linebacker at the NFL level.
Hill underwent shoulder surgeries in 2019 and 2017 and tore his ACL in 2015. Brugler called him a “low-risk, high-reward lottery ticket,” projecting him as a likely late-round pick.
Hill’s agent confirmed his signing on Twitter.