Ask Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera which player’s growth has impressed him in 2020, and it’s a good bet he’ll say tight end Logan Thomas. Actually, you don’t even need to ask. Rivera has a penchant for talking Thomas up with little prompting. On Oct. 25, Thomas caught four passes for 60 yards and a touchdown in a 25-3 win over the Dallas Cowboys, yet Rivera presaged that better performances were ahead.
“I think people are sleeping on Logan,” he said, “mostly because Logan is just learning to play the position. He’s a guy who was a quarterback in college who they’ve been trying to transition the last couple years.”
Or try Nov. 27, when a reporter asked Rivera if he was seeing any players have “a-ha!” moments in practice throughout the season.
“The guy that has really, truly intrigued me has been Logan Thomas,” Rivera responded. “As we went through training camp and we got near the end of it, he made a comment to me about: ‘Oh, that’s why we do these things.’ He said it really quick in passing, and I thought to myself, ‘Oh, he gets it.’ All he’s done is just continue to get better and better and better.”
The confidence Rivera and his staff have in the 29-year-old from Lynchburg, Virginia is bearing fruit. Signed in the offseason as Washington sought competition at tight end, Thomas has blossomed into a breakout player the team hasn’t had at that position since the heyday of Jordan Reed.
Thomas posted the best game of his NFL career Monday in Washington’s upset of the then-undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers, with nine receptions and 98 yards (both career highs), a game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter, and a crucial fumble recovery that prevented a Washington turnover.
Fans have been frustrated at times with Washington’s offense, owing to the revolving door at quarterback and few tried-and-true weapons outside No. 1 receiver Terry McLaurin. When a team has only one consistent target in the passing game, it’s about the same as having none, because opposing defenses will feel empowered to shadow that player or employ double-coverage. The Steelers focused on shutting down McLaurin, holding him to just two catches, and jumped out to a 14-0 lead Monday.
Without Thomas and other teammates like receiver Cam Sims and running back J.D. McKissic doing their part, Washington would not have come back in the second half for their stunning 23-17 win.
“I always knew that we had a chance—even when we were down 14-0,” Thomas said after the game. “It felt good, we were moving all right, things were just not working in our favor from time to time. And then everything started clicking. Obviously the defense made a bunch of huge plays, and that’s what gave us the position.”
Thomas leads Washington with five receiving touchdowns. Only five tight ends in the league have scored more than he has. His role in the offense expands by the week. Thomas appears to have justified his status as one of the coaching staff’s favorites.
As Rivera tells it, Washington tight ends coach Pete Hoener was given a list of free agent tight ends last spring, and he zeroed in on Thomas. The athleticism in his 6-foot-6, 250-pound frame was evident on tape. Being a former quarterback, he had a high IQ for the game. And it couldn’t hurt Washington’s pursuit of the free agent that he was a Virginia native who played at Virginia Tech.
Thomas signed without any promise that he’d become a mainstay with a high target volume. He had a scant track record playing tight end for the Bills and Lions, and Washington also had Marcus Baugh and Richard Rodgers competing for roster spots with Jeremy Sprinkle, the only holdover from the 2019 roster.
“Honestly, I had no idea what part of the offense I was gonna be when I came in,” Thomas said. “And you know what, I’m thankful for the position that I’m in, playing as much as I am.”
It’s a bonus that he has experience slinging the ball. This has made Thomas both Washington’s presumptive “emergency quarterback” if the rest become unable to play, and a utility knife to allow the offense to get creative. In a trick play during the Thanksgiving Day beatdown of Dallas, Thomas received a pitch from Alex Smith and flicked the ball 28 yards downfield for a completion to McLaurin. He also motioned behind center for a snap in Washington’s wins over Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
His versatility aside, the coaching staff still views Thomas as a tight end above all else. Offensive coordinator Scott Turner has seen Thomas grow in all facets of the position—receiving, route running, and blocking—lauding the latter in particular when speaking to reporters Thursday.
“You know, you worry about a guy converting from quarterback to tight end because of the blocking and that part of it,” Turner said. “There was some technique stuff that had to be cleaned up with the blocking, but the toughness and effort, we knew that was gonna be there. That was one of the reasons why we could get him and develop him into what he’s becoming as a player.”
Thomas said he appreciates how Hoener pushes him in practice each day. And, of course, he’s thankful for the trust Rivera has in him.
“Very thankful. Obviously I wouldn’t be where I’m at right now if it wasn’t for that man,” Thomas said. “I’m blessed to be a part of this organization and playing under a coach like that.”
Photo by All-Pro Reels Photography, used under the Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 license.