Precocious, productive Thomas ranks as Big 12's No. 32 player

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

No. 32

Earl Thomas made an auspicious opening in his first season as a starting safety for Texas as a redshirt freshman last season.

Thomas is a physical presence in the secondary, starting every game for the Longhorns last season. With more experience, he should develop into a key producer who could one day follow in line with the other great Texas players who preceded him in the secondary.

Player: Earl Thomas
Team: Texas
Position: Safety

Vitals: 5-foot-10, 197 pounds; So.; Orange, Texas (West Orange Stark)

Why he was picked: Thomas emerged as a key contributor, starting all 13 games in his freshman season as he earned Freshman All-America honors from The Sporting News and College Football News. Not only was he a run-stopper (second on the team with 63 tackles) but he was also productive in pass defense, where he recorded 17 pass deflections to break Texas' freshman record in that category. And on a unit that struggled to make big plays, Thomas produced two interceptions, three tackles for losses, forced four fumbles and blocked a punt.

What 2009 will hold: Thomas will be counted to bring stability to a unit that could have some changes as talented newcomers arrive. The Longhorns must do a better job of forcing turnovers. Thomas will be a key player in that quest.

The countdown:

33. Kansas State WR Brandon Banks
34. Oklahoma LB Keenan Clayton
35. Baylor S Jordan Lake
36. Oklahoma State CB/KR Perrish Cox
37. Texas C Chris Hall
38. Texas Tech DE/DT McKinner Dixon
39. Kansas State DE Brandon Harold
40. Oklahoma FB Matt Clapp