New England has good depth at the safety position, but after an injury to strong side linebacker Dont'a Hightower, the Patriots have some depth issues at linebacker. Safety Patrick Chung was good last year, but he also didn't have as much responsibility against the pass, and that could be a problem in 2015. The Patriots can kill these two birds with one stone if they draft Shaq Thompson, the S/OLB out of the University of Washington. Thompson is not only one of the best athletes in the draft, he has an upside that may make him a future Pro Bowler. After coming off a Super Bowl win and picking 32, this is the time for the Patriots to gamble on an athlete like Thompson.
Thompson starred at Grant High School, playing the safety, outside linebacker, and running back position. He excelled at all three positions and proved to be not only one of the best athletes in California, he was one of the best in the country overall. Thompson started playing regularly as a sophomore. He played in 13 games, accumulating 74 solo tackles, nine tackles for loss, three interceptions, five passes defended, one forced fumble, ten total touchdowns (eight offensive, two defensive), 364 yards rushing (12.6 ypc), 101 receiving yards, 284 kick return yards, and 28 punt return yards. For a sophomore, he was leaned on to do just about everything and he was able to step up for his team.
Thompson continued to improve, but he was being used more offensively than defensively, which is normal in high school. He totaled 54 solo tackles, two tackles for loss, one interception, one forced fumble, one defensive touchdown returned, 1,882 yards rushing (11.5 ypc), 25 touchdown runs, three touchdown catches, 18 receptions, and 345 yards receiving. Sometimes it comes down to need in high school sports, and Thompson was needed more on offense than on defense.
As a senior, Thompson played only 11 games, two less than 2009 and three less than 2010. His numbers did take a hit, but he was still excellent. Thompson also played quarterback his senior year, adding to all the other duties he had. Thompson finished his senior year with 57 solo tackles, two tackles for loss, one interception, five passes defended, 893 yards passing, eight touchdown passes, 1,134 yards rushing, 15 rushing touchdowns, and to cap it off, he punted 15 times for 566 yards, an average of 37.7 yards per punt. In his career, Thompson punted 30 times for 1,121 yards, an average of 37.4 yards. It's very simple- the kid did everything and excelled in the process.
Thomas, as with most of the first round prospects, collected his fair share of accolades. He was also drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 18th round of the 2012 MLB Draft, but after 39 at-bats in the Gulf Coast League, Thomas had 37 strikeouts and zero hits, making it very clear that his future would come in professional football, not baseball. Thomas, who was ranked as the top safety in the country and number three prospect overall, made his move and committed to Washington football.
Thompson's strong play continued when he started playing for the Huskies. His freshman year he started all 13 games as a nickel back, totaling 44 solo tackles, 30 assisted tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, one fumble recovery, three interceptions, two sacks, three passes broken up , one quarterback hurry and one blocked punt. His sophomore year was even better; 50 solo tackles, 28 assisted tackles, four tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks, one interception (returned 80 yards for a touchdown), and four passes broken up. The only game he didn't start was the Washington State game because he was moved to outside linebacker and Washington started the game in nickel.
Thompson's junior year, his final year at Washington, resembled one of his high school seasons because he played on both sides of the ball. He finished with 51 solo tackles, 29 assisted tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, one sack, four passes broken up, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries (all returned for touchdowns), one interception (returned for a touchdown), 456 yards rushing (7.5 ypc), two touchdown runs, and he capped it off with four catches for 56 yards. Thompson showed that his ability at running back wasn't just because he was the best athlete in high school, it's because he can truly run the ball. Fittingly, Thompson won the Paul Hornung Award, an award that is given to the nations most versatile player.
Thompson is getting mixed reviews from NFL scouts and front offices, mainly because they don't know if he's big enough to play outside linebacker or fast enough to be able to play safety. His 40 time was 4.64, but when you watch him on film he plays significantly faster than everyone else, which means he has another gear that we typically don't see until the adrenaline is flowing, not at the combine. Thompson isn't going to be a fit for every team, but New England is one of the teams that will know how to use his special abilities. With his added running talent, he also gives coaches the option to use him as a third back. Essentially he could be one person that can cover three positions in the NFL, a huge advantage when you're trying to decide who'll be active on Sunday. Expect to see Thompson come off the board between the 25th and 50th picks, and don't be surprised to hear these words- "with the 32nd pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, The New England Patriots select OLB/S/RB Shaq Thompson." It is a natural fit for a coach who LOVES flexible players.