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Making the case for Shamarko Thomas

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 29: Shamarko Thomas #29 of the Pittsburgh Steelers is seen before the game against the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field on December 29, 2013 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Steelers defeated the Browns 20-7. (Photo by Karl Walter/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 29: Shamarko Thomas #29 of the Pittsburgh Steelers is seen before the game against the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field on December 29, 2013 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Steelers defeated the Browns 20-7. (Photo by Karl Walter/Getty Images)
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Safety Shamarko Thomas has been through quite a journey thus far in his football career. Can special teams be his way of making the final roster of the New York Jets?

Standing at just 5’9″ and weighing in at only 213 pounds, Shamarko Thomas is the prototypical undersized underdog that’s trying to defy the odds and carve out a career for himself in the NFL. He’s been often overlooked and seldom appreciated, but the former Syracuse standout is looking to make his presence felt and earn a spot on the final roster of the New York Jets in what could be one of his final chances in the unforgiving NFL.

Thomas’ childhood was far from an easy one. He grew up in a poverty stricken household and was faced with tragedy from a young age when both his step-father and mother passed away within a span of 9 months. His biological father was in prison so he was forced to become a role model for his younger siblings.

So it’s safe to say Thomas’ journey off the field has been quite the challenge, but what about his football journey?

Football career

Thomas played collegiate ball at Syracuse University where he made a name for himself as a hard-hitting and speedy safety. He excelled in pass coverage and was able to earn First-team All-Big East honors in 2012 during his senior season.

However, despite his success in college, Thomas was not considered to be a top tier draft prospect. This was all due to one physical characteristic: his size.

While there have been players at his stature that have succeeded at the safety position (look no further than the great Bob Sanders), more often than not these players are seen more as contributors on special teams rather than starting caliber players.

Despite this, Thomas was nevertheless drafted in the 4th round by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2013 NFL Draft and was given every opportunity to succeed during his tenure in the “Steel City”. He was even dubbed the successor to the legendary Troy Polamalu at one point.

Unfortunately, the Virginia Beach native was unable to make the most out of his stay in Pittsburgh and after four lackluster campaigns, Thomas hit free agency and was signed by the Jets in June.

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How he fits in with the Jets

This leaves us with one final question: What is his role on this Jets team?

While Thomas could still have the ability to contribute on defense, the Jets aren’t in any need of that as their two starting safety spots are already locked down with rookies Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye firmly positioned in those roles.

It is, however, on special teams where Thomas can truly excel and secure a roster spot.

The Jets are likely to keep four safeties on their 53-man roster. Adams and Maye are clearly locks to start. One would expect veteran Rontez Miles to make the team as well, despite an injury that recently forced him to miss some time. An unfortunate injury to second-year safety Doug Middleton, who had been impressing in training camp, has left that final roster spot open for grabs.

At the moment, it appears to be a three-way battle between Thomas, Ronald Martin, and Robenson Therezie. Thomas has both the experience and pedigree on the other two, but his clear top competitor is Martin who has spent the past few years splitting time between the Jets practice squad and active roster.

If Thomas is going to make the team, he’s going to need to show that he can be a regular contributor on special teams. He has the speed and strength necessary to be an excellent gunner on the punt coverage team and those two attributes should also make him very valuable in kick coverage.

The biggest thing working against him right now is that Martin has experience with the organization and teams tend to stick with players that they have a history with. However, if Thomas can stand out enough and prove his worth, there’s a solid chance the team takes a flier on the former 4th round draft choice.

Thomas may seem like a doubtful candidate for a final roster spot, but proving doubters wrong is what he’s done his entire life.

Why stop now?

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