For today's edition of Packers Rookie Tape Watch, we dive into the film of Southern Miss defensive tackle Khyri Thornton.
Khyri Thornton Workout Profile
School: Southern Miss
Year: Senior (RS)
Weight: 304 lbs.
40 Yard: 4.99s
From the moment the Packers turned in the card for the 85th overall pick, Khyri Thornton became the boom-or-bust pick of the Packers' 2014 draft class. To most of the public, Thornton's selection came as a surprise. The 6-3, 304 lbs. defensive tackle played at little-watched Southern Miss, a school known for producing Brett Favre and little else. What's more, Thornton's talents weren't showcased in either the Senior Bowl or the East-West Shrine Game, the two main collegiate all-star games used for scouting.
Instead, Thornton accepted an invite to the NFLPA Bowl, a fairly recent addition to the scouting bowl circuit. While the game went ignored by most of the country, Thornton shined in both practice and the game itself. Here's what we wrote back in January about his performance:
"On defense, it turned out to be a better night for the front seven. Southern Mississippi defensive tackle Khyri Thornton frequently took up multiple blockers, displaying the fast hands and athleticism to pressure the quarterback. On the one occasion that the American team allocated just a single blocker to Thornton, he burst through for a sack."
That play remains impressive. Lining up in the 1-tech position, Thornton surges through the A gap and nearly rips the ball from the quarterback's grip. While he hits the ground allowing his target to scramble away, Thornton quickly regains pursuit and takes down the passer for an eight-yard sack. Such is indicative of the type of player Thornton can be at his best.
In college, Thornton spent most of his snaps alternative between the 1- and 3-tech positions. Because of the dearth of talent at Southern Miss, it was imperative that Thornton play as close to the ball as possible. That meant taking on an exorbitant number of double teams. Upper tier programs like Nebraska easily shut out Thornton due to the lack of compliments around him. However, when surrounded by competent talent such as his NFLPA Bowl teammates, Thornton thrived. He was still regularly double teamed, but the additional threats around him created opportunities to make players.
Accordingly, Thornton possesses plenty of built in improvement at the next level. A versatile defensive coordinator like Dom Capers can play Thornton anywhere along the defensive line. He can handle two-gap responsibilities at nose tackle or 3-tech position and provide an interior pass rush from the 5-tech.
But as should be expected with any third-round pick, there's plenty warts in Thornton's game. The concerns regarding his consistency and motor are legitimate. While he worked on that aspect of his game during his final year at Southern Miss, you can see him shut down during the aforementioned fiasco in Lincoln. Perhaps playing a smaller role will keep Thornton pressing, but the competition is considerably tougher in the NFL.
Additionally, Thornton's pad level isn't always where it should be. While his strength usually sufficed in college, he'll need to learn the nuances of playing with leverage to survive in the pros. He's tall enough that starting offensive linemen will be able to get under his pads barring improvement in this area.
Concerning to a lesser degree is Thornton's age. After failed attempts to enroll at Florida State and South Florida cost him the 2008 season, Thornton then joined Southern Miss. Despite already losing a year, the Golden Eagles coaching staff decided to redshirt him anyway. Thornton's freshman year didn't come until 2010. As a result of his late start and four seasons at Southern Miss, Thornton enters the NFL as a 24-year old rookie. While that's not so old as to bring his game tape into question, it does raise some legitimate concerns regarding Thornton's long-term potential.
All that said, Thornton remains an intriguing (albeit high-risk) prospect who could carve out a role in the base 3-4 defense over the next two years. He also brings enough versatility to contribute in the Packers' 4-3 under packages. The pressure is on Dom Capers and Mike Trgovac to find a way to get Thornton snaps along a crowded defensive line.