INDIANAPOLIS — Andrew Thomas still beats to a different drum than most offensive linemen.
It used to be the drum he played, dressed in his high school football jersey with the marching band at pep rallies before kickoff. Then came a life-changing suggestion to reorganize his priorities.
“My head coach told me I had a chance to write my own ticket playing football,” Thomas said Wednesday at the NFL combine. “I loved the game, but music was still very important to me, and he told me that I have to put my focus on football. That’s what I did. … and I’m here now.”
The 6-foot-5, 315-pound Georgia product is one of the top offensive tackles available in the NFL draft and a logical fit at No. 11 for the Jets — who could have up to four new starters on the line. Starting tackles Kelvin Beachum and Brandon Shell are free agents, and Thomas met with the Jets this week for a film breakdown.
“There were a couple plays we went over — some good, some bad,” said Thomas, a New York-based Roc Nation client. “Basically they just ask you to explain the offense, so you look at a lot of six-man pass protection and just explain how we ran it, what our calls were.”
Thomas was projected as high as a top-five pick and a fit for the No. 4 Giants in many mock drafts in the fall, but his stock has slipped over questions about his technique — tight hips and over-extension, according to NFL.com — as Alabama’s Jedrick Wills and Louisville’s Mekhi Becton have trended upward.
“People are entitled to their own opinions, and I go back and look at the film and there’s things I want to work on,” Thomas said. “There’s never a time when you’re perfect.”
A mix of Trent Williams’ athleticism and Tyron Smith’s consistency is how Thomas describes his skill set. Williams and Smith are seven-time Pro Bowlers.
“I think I’m all-around the best,” Thomas said. “I can run block. I can pass block. I’m coachable. I’m a technician. That’s what makes me the best [in the class].”
The Jets have not spent a first-round pick on the offensive line since 2006 or a second-rounder since 2010. The cumulative neglect created a shortage that offensive line-minded general manager Joe Douglas is expected to address.
“It is hard to have a good team without one,” Douglas said. “There are quite a few guys that kind of fit the mold of what we’re looking for: Smart, durable, tough, explosive guys that can play multiple positions. Versatility is a big thing.”
Thomas started all 15 games of a true-freshman All-American season at right tackle and spent the last two seasons at left tackle. He practiced at guard during training camp.
“I understand the game,” Thomas said. “A lot of times I understand what’s going on before the play happens regardless of what system I’m in. I can adapt to what they’re teaching me. I feel like I’ll make a smooth transition.”
Thomas has a formal interview scheduled this week with the Giants, who are open to trading down.
Most of his interviews stray off X’s and O’s when teams learn he hasn’t given up music. Growing up in a household in which music and church were intertwined, Thomas traded in drumsticks for piano keys.
“Every time I say that, they get interested,” Thomas said, “so I think that’s a good thing outside of football that I do. If I had to rate myself [on piano] right now from 1 to 10, I’d say I’m around a 5.”
The Jets aren’t looking for a Piano Man. Just a tackle with a New York State of Mind.