Shaq Thompson

Written by Tom Bradbury, (@FF_Rockpie)


Shaq Thompson – LB/S


University of Washington prospect Shaq Thompson is one of the most intriguing prospects this year. On the defensive side of the game, at least. Thompson ended up as the second-leading rusher for the Huskies with 456 yards and two touchdowns on offense; as well as scoring on 4 touchdown returns (3 from fumble recoveries and 1 via an interception) on defense, and sharing the national lead with 4 fumble recoveries. The linebacker/safety/running back also won the Paul Hornung Award in 2014 for being the most versatile player in college football. An honour bestowed upon some guy called Odell Beckham Jr last year.

Hang with a good crowd much?

 NFL Combine Results

Combine Drill Best Performance Lavonte David 2012 Performance
40 yard dash 4.64 secs 4.65 secs
Vertical jump 33.5’’ 36.5’’
Broad jump 117.0’’ 119.0’’
3 cone drill 6.99 secs 7.28 secs
20 yard shuttle 4.08 secs 4.22 secs
60 yard shuttle 11.78 secs N/A

Since the NFL Combine, a lot of people have claimed to be disappointed with the numbers Thompson produced. Many scouts and analysts were excited about his dynamic ability on the field, citing his athleticism as one of the main reasons he could translate well to multiple positions in the NFL. Thompson’s performance in the 40 yard dash, vertical jump, and broad jump certainly fell below these lofty expectations. I would, however, advise not to throw the linebacker out with the bath water in situations like this.

For example, consider the fact that Thompson’s 40 yard dash time of 4.64 seconds is actually 0.01 faster than what Lavonte David produced at the 2012 combine. Thompson’s 3 cone drill and 20 yard shuttle are also significantly better than David. In fact, for me his 20 yard shuffle time of 4.08 seconds (faster than Luke Kuechly, by the way) is a more accurate reflection of the elite athleticism we see on tape since it is his ability to change direction with extraordinary speed that is truly outstanding, and it is precisely that which shows up with a very good combine drill here.

Now, this is not me claiming that Shaq Thompson is the next Lavonte David. There are other issues with his game that he will need to resolve before that comparison can legitimately be brought to the table. It is interesting to me, though, that Thompson’s athletic ability appears to be at least on par with one of the best linebackers in the NFL, yet he is being castigated and dropped down draft boards for disappointing results.

Strengths

  • Functional quickness; ability to change direction is at an elite level
  • Excellent closing speed
  • His time spent on offense gives him an insight to that side of the game, he seems to show an understanding of what offensive players are about to do as a result
  • Good tackling technique in the sense that he takes players down on first contact
  • Appears to be very good at targeting his tackles
  • Good vision, understanding of tackling angles and timing
  • Shows a natural aggression and good instincts for the ball; no hesitation
  • Shows competency in using his athleticism to get off blockers
  • Very good in zone coverage
  • Displays an ability to read the QB while tracking a receiver
  • Excellent special teams presence
  • Natural playmaking tendencies
  • Non-stop motor
  • Ability to play multiple positions shows the mental capacity to handle various schemes and duties
  • Has shown he has the dedication to his craft to make it at the pro level

Weaknesses

  • Main concerns are about his size; slim frame
  • Tackling technique, while solid, is more suited to that found in safety play in the NFL
  • Tendency to leave his feet while tackling in order to take the legs/ankles of a player. Lavonte David does this a lot too. Not necessarily ‘wrong’, but riskier way of playing. If you miss, there is no second chance.
  • Can struggle in man coverage at time; tendency to jump the wrong routes is a symptom of his playmaking instincts. Has the athletic ability to easily fix this part of his game with coaching and experience
  • Can get latched onto by offensive linemen that reach the second level

Potential Landing Spots

Chicago, New York Giants, Minnesota, Cleveland, Miami, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Arizona

All of the above teams could use a linebacker of Thompson’s ability. Yes, I said linebacker. Not safety, not running back.  Despite what some analysts may be saying, I do not see Thompson as anything other than a linebacker. The only questions for me are how deterred teams might be due to his lack of ideal size, and his perceived-to-be disappointing combine performance. Personally, I have no doubts that Thompson could be a top 10 overall pick and prove very successful for a team like Chicago.

The new Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will oversee a transition to a 3-4 defense; not ideal for Thompson, but not a nightmare situation either. I believe Thompson would be a good option as the weak-side inside LB in such a system. With a 34 year old Lance Briggs hitting free agency, the only other option the Bears currently have to fill that position is Shea McClellin – a former defensive end who hits free agency in 2016. With no apparent playmaker on defense and nothing particularly invested at the position long-term, Chicago seems poised to bring in a top LB prospect with their 1.07 pick. It just so happens that the Bears’ other main need from the draft happens to be a top pass rusher, though; and so it would not surprise me at all if they opted for someone like Beasley at this spot following his monster combine. Having said that, it would also not surprise me if Thompson was available for them in round 2 if his value really does take a dip.

His ideal position to me seems to be the WILL linebacker in a 4-3 over defense; such as the one Mike Zimmer plays in Minnesota. The reason being that in a 4-3 over defense, the offensive line is moved over to the weak side, sitting underneath the WILL linebacker. This should in theory allow him to move more freely in the defense and utilize his speed to make plays in the running game. Of course like any linebacker, the WILL linebacker must take on fullbacks in such a front; but they are significantly less likely to find themselves blocked at the second level by offensive linemen, which is the main concern for a guy of Thompson’s stature. If Thompson does happen to land in Minnesota, it could very well be his best chance of becoming a legitimate 3 down WLB.

Fantasy Outlook

No matter where he lands, I believe Shaq Thompson will be a productive asset for IDP fantasy owners in one way or another. Whether he plays in a 4-3 scheme or a 3-4 scheme, he has the natural aggression and instincts, as well as the ability in coverage to contribute from day one. If Thompson is drafted to be a safety/linebacker hybrid in the way Deone Bucannon has been utilized in Arizona, he will also have solid value as a DB. I only see him as an LB, though.

To me, Thompson grades out as a better LB prospect than Ryan Shazier, for example, who is currently considered a top 15 dynasty asset in most circles. The reasoning behind this is that Shazier had a lot of the same concerns about size and being prone to over-aggressiveness when he came out of college last year – however Shazier is also a significantly inferior coverage linebacker, and has not yet developed the vision, instincts and decisiveness that Thompson displays already. Providing he lands in a 4-3 scheme that uses him as a weakside linebacker, I can see Thompson hitting 75-80 solo tackles and break 100 total tackles in his rookie year – similar to the type of season Telvin Smith produced at Jacksonville in 2014.

I do not believe that Thompson is Lavonte David 2.0, although he shows flashes of elite level talent. His instincts as a tackler are not at that level. He could, however, become a very valuable IDP linebacker more than capable of breaking the 100 solo tackles mark after further refining his game and adding around 8-10 lbs of bulk to his frame. If that happens, he could become a Deandre Levy type ILB that combines very good tackle totals with a high number of big plays due to his playmaking instincts. If that projection proves accurate, we could see his value reach as high as a top 10 fantasy option at the position. Whether Thompson reaches that potential from a fantasy perspective will depend on his exact landing spot, how he is used and how he applies himself to really making it at the NFL level.

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