Thompson’s time, size could raise questions

Is Shaq Thompson too light to play linebacker or too slow to play safety? His film says no, but his performance at the Scouting Combine could raise additional questions.

Shaq Thompson made one thing clear during his media interview during the NFL Scouting Combine: He prefers to play linebacker, not safety, where some draft analysts have him projected, and definitely not running back.

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“I’m gonna put it out there that I want to play linebacker. But I can’t say no to (safety),” he said in the middle of four days at the NFL Scouting Combine last week. “(Linebacker) is where I feel the most comfortable. I like to be up by the line of scrimmage. I feel like I’m physical enough. I’m not the biggest guy, but I have a lot of heart.”

After a slower-than-expected showing in the 40-yard dash, it will raise questions about whether he can effectively play safety, anyway. Thompson ran 4.64-second 40-yard dash, which is about average among the linebackers but slow for defensive backs. Of course, there are questions about him as a linebacker, too.

Thompson checked into the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis at an even 6 feet and 228 pounds, a little on the light side for a linebacker but comparing himself to Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David.

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“I feel like size doesn’t matter,” he said. “There were a couple of times where I didn’t get off blocks, but there were other times when I did. If you’re a playmaker, you’re gonna make a play regardless, whether you’re getting blocked or not getting blocked. That’s part of my game I need to tighten up and I’m getting better at it.”

Of course, timing at the so-called “Underwear Olympics” isn’t going to be as important as what Thompson did while at Washington.

Scout.com draft analyst Dave-Te’ Thomas described Thompson as a “highly versatile performer” that could play either weakside linebacker or strong safety, and some believe he could play both in the NFL, depending on the situation.

Thomas had Thompson ranked No. 9 overall and the top outside linebacker in his rankings before the Scouting Combine.

“The thing you notice on film is that he utilizes his weight-room strength well to hold ground at the point of attack,” Thomas wrote in his evaluation. “Despite giving up considerable bulk, he will not hesitate to combat versus the larger offensive linemen. … He is not the type that will maul a ball carrier, but does generate a good thud on contact. He is a good leverage player who uses his hands with force to play off blocks. He shows good leverage on the move, and when given a clear lane can run downhill to fill the lane. His range is evident on outside running plays and he has the sudden burst to head off the ball carriers near the sidelines.”

While at Washington, Thompson set the NCAA record by generating 184 yards on four fumble recoveries and another mark by returning three of them for touchdowns. He also scored on an interception return and posted 71 tackles. On offense, he ranked third on the team with 61 carries for 456 yards (7.5 average) and two more touchdowns.

As a nickel back, he posted 74 tackles, 8½ tackles-for-loss, three interceptions and six pass breakups in 2012, and had 78 tackles with an 80-yard interception return for a touchdown at right outside linebacker in 2013. He made 50 of his tackles on running plays last year, holding those ball carriers to 28 yards.

“Thompson is a big hitter who can blow opponents up if he’s on track, doing a good job of breaking down, facing up and wrapping,” Thomas wrote. “He keeps things in front of him in zone coverage, taking proper angles in pursuit. He has the balance and range to make plays sideline to sideline.”



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