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Extra Points: Thomas injury clouds interior OL market

<p>Left tackles remain the A-listers in the world of the big uglies, but interior offensive linemen are often just as important to the success of any NFL offense.</p>

(SportsNetwork.com) - Left tackles remain the A-listers in the world of the big uglies, but interior offensive linemen are often just as important to the success of any NFL offense.

One of the best prospects on the interior in this year's NFL Draft, former Clemson stalwart Brandon Thomas, saw his stock plummet on Monday when news surfaced that the potential second-round pick suffered a torn ACL in his right knee while training last week.

Solid performances at the NFL Scouting Combine in February and at Clemson's pro day in early March vaulted Thomas into the conversation as a possible second-round option with the assumption he would move inside.

A versatile prospect, the 6-foot-4, 316-pound Thomas spent the previous three years protecting Tajh Boyd's blind side on the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains but his occasional struggles in space quickly had NFL scouts projecting his future home to be on the inside at the next level.

"He was a left tackle who played well (in college) and did a good job at the Senior Bowl practices," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said back in February. "He could play as guard, and be a great guard, a Pro Bowl guard."

That high praise morphed out of Thomas' explosive knee-bend and ability to pancake opposing defenders with a quick, often violent short punch. His ability to seal on combination blocks and his patience as a drive blocker also caught the eyes of several scouts in recent weeks.

NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock recently recommended that the Houston Texans would be wise to select Thomas with the first pick of the second round while his colleague, Daniel Jeremiah, believes Thomas has the potential to be a starter as rookie.

All that ability and any projected ceilings as a player remain, but a torn ACL is a devastating injury for any prospect to suffer at this point in the process.

"As you can imagine, he's kind of running the gamut of emotions," Thomas' agent, Tom Kleine, told the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier. "Training was going great. "

Kleine confirmed that Thomas had already finished "seven or eight" individual workouts with NFL teams before the injury and had several more on the docket.

A conservative nine-month rehabilitation process, however, would mean Thomas will miss his entire rookie season, a scenario which takes a second-day draft grade in May, along with thousands in potential bonus money off the table.

That said, San Francisco's draft-day selections of Tank Carradine and Marcus Lattimore a year ago prove there are organizations willing to take chances on talented players who have suffered injuries.

Thomas' road to the NFL just got a lot rockier, but he will get his chance.

"We're just still in the process of notifying teams," Kleine said. "Will it affect his stock? Probably."

The Sports Network's top offensive guards in the 2014 NFL Draft:

1. - Zack Martin, Notre Dame

2. - Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA

3. - Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State

4. - David Yankey, Stanford

5. - Joel Bitonio, Nevada

6. - Cyril Richardson, Baylor

7. - Brandon Thomas, Clemson

8. - Jon Halapio, Florida

9. - Zach Fulton, Tennessee

10. - Chris Watt, Notre Dame

The Sports Network's Stock Watch:

Sleeper - John Urschel, Penn State

Small School Standout - Dakota Dozier, Furman

Risk/Reward - Thomas; Yankey

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