When the Green Bay Packers selected cornerback Joey Thomas of Montana State in the third round of the 2004 NFL Draft Saturday, they were hooking the biggest fish in a smallish pond.
Regarded by the end of his college career as the best shut-down cornerback in Division I-AA, Thomas was originally recruited by the University of Washington. He left the school prior to his competitive freshman season after deciding he'd rather transfer universities than positions.
"They wanted me to play safety and I wanted the opportunity to play corner," Thomas remembered Saturday, after being selected by the Packers. "So I went to Montana State where I had the opportunity to play corner and things have worked out great for me since."
Great for the Packers, too.
Had Thomas been given the opportunity to play cornerback at Washington, his exposure at a Pac-10 powerhouse could have easily led to him being off the board when the Packers came on the clock with the 70th overall pick.
As it was, vice president of football operations Mark Hatley said that the Packers had Thomas graded as a second-round value.
"I think he was the highest-graded player on our board (at the 70th pick)," Hatley said. "We felt like that he fit into what we wanted to do ... I think any time you can get a corner that you think has cover skills, you have to try to address that issue."
The selection of Thomas marked the Packers' second straight acquisition of a cornerback in the 2004 draft, having picked up Arkansas' Ahmad Carroll in the first round, 25th overall.
As with Carroll, the Packers liked Thomas' speed and his collegiate experience playing bump-and-run coverage.
"The priority of our defense it to stop the run and when you employ eight men to stop the run, your corners are up many times in a bump situation," GM/Head Coach Sherman said. "If you want to pressure the quarterback they're playing bump.
"I just think from an offensive standpoint, when defensive backs can molest the release of receivers, it messes with your timing offensively. So it's a technique and a scheme that we employ and he fits that."
At 6-foot, 195 pounds, Thomas' measurements are nearly identical to those of Mike McKenzie, who has started at corner for the Packers for the past five seasons, and he's been timed in the 40-yard dash at 4.4.
With those tools, Thomas said he thought he'd be selected earlier in the draft than the third round, but admitted that playing in the Big Sky Conference couldn't have helped.
"Definitely going to a small school wasn't an advantage," Thomas said. "It could have been a disadvantage, but I'm very happy with everything and how everything has turned out."
So, too, are the Packers, who said Thomas eased their worries about his small-college background with a standout performance at the Senior Bowl.
"Whether he's from Montana State or Ohio State or Texas, it's the same process," Hatley said. "We want to take who we feel is the best player. It doesn't matter what school."