AnalysisYou could make a strong case that Thompson is one of the finest athletes in this draft class. He’s a converted running back that projects as a weakside linebacker or strong safety depending on scheme. I see him as a more athletic Lavonte David (Bucs LB). The two have very similar measurables at the same stage. Like David, Thompson is somewhat undersized to be a linebacker but plays with outstanding closing speed, instincts and aggression. He makes plays all over the field and plays with a relentless attitude and terrific motor. I know he didn’t test well but just watch the film. Thompson is a big time player who will shine on Sundays in the pass happy league that is the NFL. He’s game is greatly suited for today’s game.
Dave-Te' Thomas Player Evaluation
I love this Panther pick – linebacker Shaq Thompson to Carolina. You could make a strong case that Thompson is one of the finest athletes in this draft class. He’s a converted running back that projects as a weakside linebacker or strong safety depending on scheme. I see him as a more athletic Lavonte David (Bucs LB). The two have very similar measurables at the same stage. Like David, Thompson is somewhat undersized to be a linebacker but plays with outstanding closing speed, instincts and aggression. He makes plays all over the field and plays with a relentless attitude and terrific motor. I know he didn’t test well but just watch the film. Thompson is a big time player who will shine on Sundays in the pass happy league that is the NFL. He’s game is greatly suited for today’s game.
Shaq Thompson is another highly versatile performer who was not only the defensive unit’s spark plug, but also provided the offense with another option carrying the ball out of the backfield. Experience at both strong- and weak-side linebacker, some teams are also eyeing Thompson as a valid strong safety candidate.
He set the NCAA record by generating 184 yards via four fumble recoveries and another mark by returning three of them for touchdowns. He also scored via an interception and posted 71 tackles. On offense, he ranked third on the team with 61 carries for 456 yards (7.5 ypc) and two more touchdowns.
Thoughts for moving Thompson to the defensive backfield in the NFL is perhaps due to his incredible foot speed and ability to keep plays in front of him, as he has drawn lots of comparisons to former Dallas great Darren Woodson from scouts that covet him as a strong safety. As a nickel back, he posted 74 tackles, 8.5 stops-for-loss, three pass thefts and six pass break-ups in 2012 and made 78 tackles with a pass theft returned for an 80-yard score at right outside linebacker in 2013. He made 50 of his tackles in run force, holding those ball carriers to 28 yards last season.
The thing you notice on film is that he utilizes his weight room strength well to hold ground at the point of attack. Despite giving up considerable bulk, he will not hesitate to combat vs. the larger offensive linemen. He fits and folds well and can be firm playing a nine-tech. 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 down hill 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. As a defensive back, he has the ability to lay back and play centerfield with good timing to make the play on the ball. He has very good timing ability on his leaps going for the ball, showing good arm extension to get to the pigskin at its high point. He has outstanding range, doing a good job of covering ground in a hurry.
The Husky is quick to support vs. the run, showing good explosion when closing and in pass coverage, he has the height and speed to match up against any tight end, running back or receiver. He 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. He keeps things in front of him in zone coverage, taking proper angles in pursuit.
Thompson has the balance and range to make plays sideline to sideline, as he does a good job of staying on his feet. He can clear trash and run with good athletic agility, as his change of direction skills lets him cover large portions of the field. He runs to the ball well and has the hand usage to slip off passive blocks. When he closes on the ball, he will usually take good angles.
The junior has that rare speed and acceleration (for a linebacker) to close in a hurry and the range to run sideline-to-sideline. With his high motor, he is explosive getting through trash to cut off the outside runners. You see on film that Thompson plays with good leverage to contain when the play is directed right at him, along with the pursuit skills to give chase when the play is away. He uses his strength well to flatten and close with an explosive burst and does a nice job to squeeze and bounce.
Thompson has the ability to drop off deep in the zone due to his hip swerve. He has the quickness to run with backs, tight ends and slot receivers in the short area and shows good vision, quickness and ball anticipation to be right in the receiver’s face in attempts to reroute. He uses his hands with force in press situations and shows the hip swerve to operate in trail coverage. He takes no wasted steps in transition and is quick to turn coming out of his backpedal. He flips his hips properly and plays at a good pad level.
Thompson’s possible switch to the secondary is largely due to his lack of great size teams look for in a strong-side ‘backer (has the speed to roam from the weak-side, though). He has the hip snap and fluid moves to stop, start and change direction in an instant. He shows a good feel for handling switch-offs and is an alert player who does a nice job of reading threats from the quarterback and timing his moves to get to the ball before the receiver.
Thompson has enough burst and athletic ability to discourage the passer from throwing into his area, as his anticipation and burst lets him get a quick jump on the ball. His ball awareness skills let him locate the ball quickly. He does a good job of picking up and switching off on receivers, keeping the play in front of him. He has an explosive break on the ball and keeps his hands properly extended to wrap and secure.
One area of that is deficient in his game is as a pass rusher and blitzer, as he was often utilized in a system that called for him to stay back more and wait for the play to come to him, making it difficult to truly evaluate him in this category. He gives good effort in his limited chances as a blitzer, but is more effective flowing to the ball than attacking from the back side (best as a weak-side linebacker, as he lacks size to play on the strong side or generate good backside pressure).
Some scouts have a bit of concern that he will get caught up vs. inside trash due to a lack of ideal size, but at the collegiate level, that was not been an issue when he took on blocks with the proper shoulder.
Thompson has shown that he could be a valuable roster addition due to his versatility. His work on offense was very impressive last season, but throughout the interview process at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine, he stated his preference to be a linebacker – not a running back and not a safety – so he can hone his skills and develop at a position that suits his speed and pursuit skills.
Shaq Thompson Scouting Combine measurables
6-0/228 (4.64 forty)
33-inch arm length
9 1/2-inch hands
33.5-inch vertical jump
117-inch broad jump
6.99 3 cone drill
4.08 20 yard shuttle
11.78 60 yard shuttle
Dave-Te’ Thomas is a sports writer, talent evaluator and scouting personnel consultant for a majority of teams in the National Football League. Thomas runs a scouting information service called NFL Scouting Services and produces THE NFL Draft Report, a publication provided by league headquarters to the media in preparation for the NFL Draft.
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