Boom or Bust: Shaq Thompson
Okay everyone, take a deep breath.
After months of over-analyzed speculation, the thick of draft season is finally upon us with only about one month left to go until primetime in Chicago. These last five weeks can be the most stressful for a young man hoping to hear his name called, especially for those who are under the microscope of teams and analysts alike as potential first round picks.
One of the players feeling that pressure is athlete Shaq Thompson out of the University of Washington. After winning the Paul Hornung Trophy as the nation’s most versatile player in 2014 while playing running back and outside linebacker for the Huskies, the position where he fits best in the NFL is still in question. Is he a running back (probably not)? Is he an outside linebacker? Is he a safety? Is he a center fielder? (He was drafted by the Boston Red Sox as a center fielder based squarely on his athletic ability, but he did strikeout 37 times in 39 at-bats in the gulf league in 2012). No matter the answer, I believe Thompson’s elite athleticism will allow him to excel at any of those positions.
Thompson’s speed and aggression as a defender is something that will definitely translate nicely to the NFL. He was a big time game changer for the Huskies in 2014 racking up 81 tackles and scoring four times. Also, his change of direction and potential pass rushing ability based on his elusiveness and good body control has also impressed. Although the question of which position he will play at the next level may be perceived as a weakness to some, his versatility is one trait that I really admire about him. Thompson’s high energy play is also something every defensive coordinator would admire.
A flaw that might scare some teams away is Thompson’s lack of size. Some consider him to be too small to play linebacker at the next level, which would force him to play safety (a position he hasn’t played since high school) causing him to experience some growing pains in his first year in the league. Another flaw is his limited experience rushing the passer at Washington which is cause for concern, although he has the potential to be a serviceable pass rusher.
Despite his lack of size, Thompson’s rare versatility, high energy play, and freak-like athleticism will allow him to play at a high level for years to come. His draft stock is a bit up in the air right now, but any team that drafts him after pick twenty might just have the steal of the draft. Although he has the potential, year one might be a little slow out of the gates for the Washington product.
Player Comparison: Navorro Bowman, LB, San Francisco 49ers
Like Bowman, Thompson could be one of few linebackers with coverage skills and elite range. Thompson differs from Bowman in that he could fit nicely at nickel safety when needed.
Potential Fit: New York Giants
The Giants have a gaping hole at safety and the linebacker corps could use an infusion of talent, so don’t be surprised if Reese takes another playmaker in the first round at the dispense of new (and former) defensive coordinator Steve Spagnulo.