The only running back worth a first round pick in the 1990 NFL Draft turned out to be Emmitt Smith. At No. 17 overall.
Despite being the second selection in the draft out of Penn State, by the New York Jets, Blair Thomas was outdone in the National Football League by nearly every contemporary picked after him. His pedestrian 2,236 yards rushing and seven touchdowns (533 carries) over six years trails a number of other moderately memorable guys, even some worth remembering. Terry Allen was taken by Minnesota in the 9th round before going on to rush for 8,614 yards and 73 TDs. Chris Warren, selected in the 4th round by Seattle, rushed for 7,696 yards and 52 TDs.
Maybe Thomas would’ve been better off with a different team. He entered the league at the same time as New York’s first-year head coach Bruce Coslet, who would last just as long with the Jets as Thomas did before going on to finish his NFL career with a worthless 47-77 record over nine years. It’s worth mentioning that Coslet never knew a season better than 8-8 while on the sideline with either the Jets or Cincinnati Bengals.
Thomas rushed for just 2,009 yards (468 carries) and five touchdowns for the Jets from 1990-93. He carried the ball at least 15 times in a game only eight times during that stretch and rushed for 100 yards or more just two times. Career highlights include 20 carries for 100 yards in a loss to the New England Patriots in his fourth career game, and then going for a career-high 125 yards on 27 carries against the Chicago Bears just four games into his second season.
But Thomas would never reach the century mark again. Adding to the lowlights, he never got closure against his old team after joining the Patriots in 1994 and returning to New York to rush for 63 yards and a touchdown in a 24-17 loss.
After finding his way to Dallas that same season, Thomas’ shining moment came in his only playoff appearance when, because of an injury to Smith, he carried the Cowboys to a 35-9 win over the Green Bay Packers by way of 70 yards rushing (23 carries) and two touchdowns. He closed out his career playing sparingly for the Carolina Panthers in 1995 before calling it a day.
Defensive lineman Cortez Kennedy (No. 3 overall to Seattle) and tight end Shannon Sharpe (7th round by Denver) are the only other players including Smith from the 1990 NFL Draft currently enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Linebacker Junior Seau (5th overall to San Diego) is likely to join that list soon. Quarterback Jeff George was taken first overall by Indianapolis and defensive end Keith McCants went fourth to Tampa Bay. It was quite the draft for NFL teams to navigate.
Before Thomas was drafted by the Jets the team had been without a 1,000-yard rusher since 1985 when Freeman McNeil compiled 1,331 yards for a team that lost its wild card game against the Patriots. That would only be the second – and final – 1,000-yard season for McNeil, who finished his 12-year career (1981-92) in New York with 8,074 yards, now second all-time in team history behind hall-of-famer Curtis Martin.
The Jets would not roll out another 1,000-yard rusher until Thomas was gone from the league. Adrian Murrell rushed for 1,249 yards during a 1-15 season in 1996. Two years later Martin arrived and became the face of the franchise.
Thomas ranks 15th in team history in both rushing yards and attempts (468). His 39.4 yards per game ranks 16th, and might sounds like a a bit of an embellishment to Jets fans.
As a rookie Thomas rushed for 620 yards to help the Jets improve by two game and finish 6-10 overall. The next season Thomas rushed for 728 yards before being held out of a playoff wild-card loss to Houston, which served as the last playoff win for the Oilers before they relocated to Tennessee.
It seems so fitting that the first cardboard image of Blair with the Jets is of him looking bewildered into the distance, on a Topps Traded edition card. It appears to foreshadow the eventual downfall to come.