Today we take a look at a possible option for the Cowboys later in the draft in Stanford interior defensive lineman Thomas Booker.
Name: Thomas Booker
Weight: 301 pounds
Combine Results: 4.94 40-yard dash, 110” broad jump, 7.33 3-cone drill, 4.41 short shuttle
Considering that his full name is Earl Thomas Booker, this Stanford prospect who goes by Thomas might represent the most realistic shot the Cowboys have at getting Earl Thomas on their team. That would be a smart move, too, as Booker has a very intriguing skill set that would be ideal for Dallas.
Booker was a standout high school player from Maryland who became a 4-star recruit ranked 11th in the country at his position. Booker turned down offers from Clemson, Ohio State, Notre Dame, and LSU to attend Stanford, where he became an immediate rotation player as a true freshman.
Booker became a starter for Stanford his next year and recorded his best statistical season with the Cardinal, becoming a key piece on their defense. With a shortened 2020 season due to COVID-19, Booker opted to return for his senior year but didn’t have the kind of breakthrough he had hoped for despite solid production. Stanford finished with its worst record in 15 years, and that didn’t help Booker’s profile either. But he still has a lot to offer an NFL team, and should be looking at a much higher draft stock than he currently has.
Burst: When the ball is snapped, Booker plays like he’s shot out of a cannon. He has top-notch first step and fires off the line of scrimmage with elevated intensity. Stanford lined him up everywhere on the defensive line, giving the chance to see how Booker’s burst paired up with all types of blockers. He was noticeably at his best playing closer to the center, but his burst allowed him to thrive anywhere in college.
Footwork: Whereas Booker’s burst allowed him to find success anywhere he lined up, his footwork didn’t translate as well. It’s not that he has poor footwork - he’s actually really good in the way he moves - but Booker and his thick frame are clearly more comfortable inside. Booker has the footwork to thrive “in the phone booth,” as they say, but isn’t overly bendy to find consistent success off the edges.
Hand Technique: Booker carries a ton of strength in his upper body, which is largely derived from his overall thickness; while he didn’t participate in the bench press at the combine, he did record 31 reps at his pro day, which would have led all defensive linemen in Indianapolis. That kind of strength shows up in his hand technique, where Booker strikes opposing linemen with power and frequently stuns them backwards. This also makes him very effective when asked to two-gap.
Pass Rush Moves: One big reason why Booker won’t get drafted earlier is because he hasn’t recorded more than one sack in each of the past two seasons. Booker’s pass rush skills are definitely a weak spot, and it stems from a pretty underutilized tool bag of pass rush moves. My guess is that his varied role in Stanford’s hybrid scheme stunted his growth somewhat in this regard. Either way, the team that drafts Booker will effectively be starting from scratch with his pass rush moves. That said, he has the burst and hand technique to develop quickly in this area.
Lateral Agility: Booker is exceptionally light on his feet for how big he looks. He moves effortlessly along the line of scrimmage, whether he’s turning to run to the ball or working on a stunt. He led all interior defensive linemen in both agility drills - the 3-cone drill and the short shuttle - at the combine, which backed up what’s on tape.
Athleticism: Booker is a great athlete, and the fact that his testing numbers held up so well in a class filled with elite athletes in their own right is a testament to how athletic he is. In Indianapolis, there wasn’t a single drill Booker didn’t place in the top five among his position. That’s reflected on film.
Run Defense: Booker was an elite run defender at Stanford. His 8.5 tackles for loss in his sophomore season was a standout, and since then he became the type of player that offenses crafted their running game around avoiding. Booker is at his best shooting the gap to blow up run plays, but he can hold his own in two-gap situations as well.
Processing: Anyone who plays at Stanford is going to automatically be profiled as very smart, and that stereotype fits Booker well. He diagnoses things very quickly on the field and it shows. He was also a finalist for the academic Heisman his senior year.
Intangibles: Booker was a four-year player and three-year starter, earning team captain honors his final season. He has been considered a vocal locker room leader as well. During the 2020 season, Booker teamed up with several other Stanford athletes to create CardinalBLCK, an on-campus organization promoting dialogue around issues of racism and social justice, which further highlighted Booker’s leadership not just within the football team.
Earlier this week I looked at Georgia’s Jordan Davis, whom I consider the best interior defensive lineman in this draft. Considering the Cowboys haven’t drafted this position in the first round since 1991, and Davis may not even be available to them at 24 anyway, it seems unlikely that streak will change. However, Dallas has had a lot of success in finding productive, albeit not dominant, interior defensive linemen later in the draft.
Booker seems tailor-made to be the next such example. With his arms measuring in at 34 1/4” at the combine, he has the combination of size, length, and athleticism that Dan Quinn covets. Additionally, Booker’s experience playing so many roles at Stanford would make for a seamless transition into the varied fronts Quinn has been using in Dallas thus far, and Booker would benefit immensely as a pass rusher with the opportunity to learn under Quinn.
Overall, he projects as a valuable run-stopping presence with a solid floor as a pass rusher with some upside to grow into a much more complete player. He has all the traits, and working with a coach like Quinn could be the perfect situation to capitalize. Booker seems to be a lock as a Day 3 pick, with the fifth round being the most likely range for him to be selected. Given the Cowboys have four picks in that round, they’ll have plenty of chances to get the Stanford product.