The saying, “ Never meet your heroes” isn’t applicable for Arizona Cardinals rookie Cameron Thomas who will not only meet his hero but be his new teammate. That hero is J.J. Watt, a player that the rookie outside linebacker has idolized since he was a kid.
Thomas was drafted with the 87th pick in this year's NFL Draft by the Cardinals. The third-round draft pick spent three seasons at San Diego State donning a red No. 99 on his jersey, the same number worn by his idol. Now his hero will move from a player on television to his new locker mate.
“He is really just my role model,” Thomas said. “I’ve watched so much of his film and being able to learn from him, I’m really excited to be able to pick his brain. I’m really looking forward to it.”
At SDSU, Thomas played across the defensive line, moving inside and outside. The flexibility was a reason Arizona general manager Steve Keim drafted him. That versatility mirrors Watt, who has dominated on any spot at the line of scrimmage. The similarities between himself and Watt led to Thomas watching film of the Cardinals defensive end.
“I definitely see a lot in his game that I see in mine,” Thomas said. “It was really easy to be able to watch him and kind of match up on film.”
Last season at San Diego State, Thomas earned 11.5 sacks and 20.5 tackles for loss. His ability to fly around the field and break into the opponent's backfield is due to his “relentless effort,” Thomas said. Any opposing NFL quarterback in the last 11 seasons could attest that Watt has that in spades.
With the Cardinals, Thomas will play outside linebacker which is a bit of a departure from the traditional defensive end role he played with the Aztecs. In Arizona, Thomas will have to forgo playing with his hand in the dirt and instead play standing up.
“ I think the transition will be no problem at all,” Thomas said.
However, Keim said the day he was drafted that Thomas could also play inside on the defensive line with the Cardinals.
Thomas could see a large role on special teams this season and says he will give 110% wherever he is asked to play. The flexibility, effort and drive is all a good start for someone who hopes to emulate a future Hall of Famer like Watt.
Thomas is officially in the NFL and with rookie minicamps, OTAs and training camp on the horizon, it will be time to put his skills to the test. But for the time being, it’s alright to be a kid again and meet your hero.
Thomas said, “I haven’t met him yet. I might be like a little kid when I meet him seriously, we’ll see how that goes, but I’m really excited to meet him.”