On the Fringes: Stantley Thomas-Oliver must show progression at camp
Stantley Thomas-Oliver III showed flashes as a rookie, but how the cornerback progresses at training camp will define his future with the Carolina Panthers.
Coming into the league as a seventh-round pick is not the easiest task in the world. Players are under pressure right from the word go in pursuit of making a team and also carving out a role on the rotation.
This was no different for Stantley Thomas-Oliver III, who was Carolina’s final selection during their historic all-defense 2020 draft. The Panthers saw something in the Florida International product despite his lack of experience playing the position and he did enough to book his place among the 53 for the regular season at a much changed training camp last year due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Thomas-Oliver was always going to be a work in progress. He didn’t see much of the field over the first few weeks – at least on the defensive rotation – which allowed the rookie to develop at his own pace and ease the transition to the professional ranks.
Thankfully for the player and the Panthers, Thomas-Oliver picked things up quickly.
After appearing sporadically over the course of the campaign, Thomas-Oliver was a prominent part of the rotation over the last six weeks and more than held his own against some high-class opposition.
There was the obvious schooling Thomas-Oliver received at the hands of Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings. But overall, Carolina can be happy with how he performed under pressure.
This is a solid foundation to build a successful career.
However, what comes next for Thomas-Oliver in Carolina is unclear.
Carolina Panthers brought in plenty of competition for Stantley Thomas-Oliver this offseason.
The front office made some eye-catching additions to the secondary in free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft. Not exactly what Thomas-Oliver’s hopes of attaining a starting position wanted to see.
It’s almost like the player now has to go back to the drawing board and impress all over again following the arrivals of Jaycee Horn, A.J. Bouye, Keith Taylor Jr., and Rashaan Melvin.
There’s nothing to suggest Thomas-Oliver isn’t capable of making some adjustments ahead of a big training camp. His athleticism has never been in question, it’s the mere fact the rookie was a little naive in his route anticipation at times.
This improves with experience. Or at least it should.
Thomas-Oliver transitioned to cornerback from a wide receiver in college, which proved to be a masterstroke. But the NFL is a what have you done for me lately league and if others perform better than the second-year-pro at camp and during preseason games, it will throw his future with the franchise into doubt.
Having experience in the system should help Thomas-Oliver. His production last season is something else that won’t have gone unnoticed by the coaching staff.
This is a tricky predicament for the Panthers, who’d probably lose Thomas-Oliver if they waived him with a view to bringing him back on the practice squad. But the simple face of the matter is that if the new recruits reach the level expected, they might not have a choice.
That is, unless Thomas-Oliver also raises his skill set accordingly.
He’s been trending on an upward curve ever since moving to the position. Hopefully, this can continue and nobody will be happier than Matt Rhule as the team looks to make further strides and maybe even secure a surprise playoff spot in the second year under his leadership.