UW Football Draft Discussion: Shaq Thompson

The 2014 season for the University of Washington Huskies ended with some impressive individual performances on the defensive side of the ball. Three, possibly four Husky defensive players should be drafted on the 1st or 2nd day of the NFL draft.

In this series, Seattle Side Up writers Brent Goodwine and Richard Michealson will discuss NFL draft prospects:

  • Shaq Thompson
  • Marcus Peters
  • Danny Shelton
  • Hau’oli Kikaha

Today’s conversation, Brent and Rich will discuss #7 himself, the dazzling playmaker at both linebacker and running back: Shaq Thomspon.

 

NFL Talents

Brent:  

Hey Rich, what tools does Shaq Thompson offer the NFL?

 

Rich

The question is what tools doesn’t he bring? Shaq Thompson has all of the skills to play strong safety, outside linebacker, inside linebacker and running back.

He is 6′ 1′ 228lbs–a bit small for a LB in today’s NFL. He was first team All Pac-12 and first team All-American at LB. He also won the Paul Hornung trophy for the nation’s most versatile football player. He has true potential at all 4 positions.

He is the prototypical size for a RB.  While he only rushed 61 times he averaged 7.5 yards/rush.  He was explosive; for example, with the ASU defense stacking the line of scrimmage to stop the run, Thompson averaged 4.7 yard/rush and finished with 98 yards on the ground.

Thompson has played extensively inside in the Huskies hybrid 3-4; 4-3l 3-3; 4-2 defense. He seems to have a nose for the ball and the big play. He also forced 3 fumbles. He has good instincts. Also he is the type of LB built to succeed in the era of spread offenses.

While he is not freak of nature like Kam Chancellor at the Strong Safety position, he does have good tackling ability, size enough to match up with most Tight Ends, and very good hitting ability when supporting the run. However, Thompson’s instincts for the ball an unparalleled among linebackers or safeties in the Pac-12.

Brent, what is your evaluation of his skill set?

 

Brent: 

Rich, you make some good points about Shaq’s diversity and all-around talent. It all comes down to what you mention in your last sentence: instincts. The reason Shaq has been a playmaker in all 3 aspects of the game is his instincts.

Yeah, he didn’t have eye-popping numbers at the NFL Combine, but his numbers were almost the same as Kam Chancellor’s Combine performance. Thompson has football speed and a second gear when he needs it.

He could be a lot of things in the NFL. One of the exciting things about him as a prospect is that he’s a good (not great) athlete that has off the charts football IQ. His value to his team will depend on the how his new coaching staff views him. He could be the NFL’s version of a Swiss Army knife.

 

Deficiencies

Rich: What weakness or area for improvement do you see in Shaq’s game Brent?

 

Brent:

Not many. As evidenced by his contribution to all 3 phases of Husky football last season, Shaq Thompson is a helluva well-rounded player. The S/LB hybrid does have some room for improvement at the next level however. Thompson was not often tasked with taking on direct blockers at UW, and he struggled with releasing from larger blockers after being engaged. It’s not a case of effort with him, but Shaq will need to clean up his technique and get stronger to take on NFL OL and TEs.

He has come a long way with another part of his game since starting as a true freshman, but Thompson will occasionally get sloppy in his tackling and reverts to being more a hitter instead of wrapping up the ball carrier. Yes, this is a nitpicky observation, and most young defensive players are guilty of this, but Shaq does not hit like Kam Chancellor, so he’ll need to be more consistent with his form to tighten up his tackling.

Where do you see his weakness Rich?

 

Rich:

Brent I mostly agree with your assessment. He is small for a 4-3 LB and will need to hit the weight room to bulk up for the NFL game. He also needs to have a bit more work on his ability to shed blocks. In Washington’s defense, Thompson was able play in space a lot; he was not great in traffic. The good news is that in the 4-3 scheme, the Will Linebacker (Weak side linebacker) position usually doesn’t have to fight off of blocks. He is a little shorter than some teams would like, due to the recent trend for taller defensive backs, however, he is an average height compared to safeties NFL wide.

He could due to take some lessons from the Seahawks Michael Bennett, an expert in hand fighting with offensive lineman. In addition he needs to learn how to shoot the gap when he is opposite pulling guards and tackles. With that being said he also needs to crash down to seal the edge when he has outside containment on runs to the edge. He needs to show that he can cover slot receivers if he expects to be a 3 down LB or a strong safety.

As a running back, the only weakness is running outside versus quality defenses. He also needs to improve his pass catching if he wants to have running back as a backup plan to get on the field.

 

NFL team

Brent:

Hey Rich, which NFL teams need Shaq?

 

Rich:

Every team could use a player as talented as Thompson, the Bengals, Texans and Chiefs seem like likely teams for him to end up on. With the ability to play all LB positions, Safety, Nickel back, and Running Back, Thompson’s versatility should allow him to land with some NFL team in the mid-1st round to mid-2nd round. Positional needs of the Eagles, and Bears might bring Thompson to both teams’ radar as well, as both organizations have needs at LB and S. One last team that might look seriously at Shaq, is Arizona Cardinals, due to their unique flex defense that uses fast LB and multiple hybrid safeties.

Where is he going to go Brent? 

 

Brent: 

Your first sentence said it all about Shaq in the draft. Every team could use either a RB, SS, LB, or ST star. While I don’t share your optimism of Thompson being a mid-1st round pick, I agree with the teams you mentioned above as possible destinations for the versatile former 5-star HS recruit (Thanks, Tosh!)

The following teams could be the prime landing spots for Shaq:

  •  Chargers: He could team with former Husky Donald Butler in San Diego.
  •  Patriots: Belichick loves versatile players. He also loves kicking puppies and pushing ladies into traffic.
  • Eagles: Chip Kelly loves drafting Pac-12 players.
  • Chiefs: May need an Eric Berry replacement.
  • Jets: Former Cardinals DC Todd Bowles could find a place for Shaq.
  • Bears: Crappy defense could use some help.

 

Projection

Rich:

Brent,  where do you project #7s draft spot and how do you gauge his long-term success?

 

Brent:

Worst case scenario for Shaq as a rookie is that he’ll contribute on special teams only. Probably will instantly be one of the better ST players in the league. Shaq is a football player in the true sense of the word, and the team that drafts him should be able to find a place for him on the field. He could see snaps at LB, S (his natural position and best fit for long-term success), and RB next season. I expect Shaq to contribute from Week 1 of 2015 in some aspect, and he should be a starter in the league for years to come.

Thompson’s lack of a true position is going to hurt him in the draft. From a football player aspect, he should be a top 15 or 20 pick, but I envision him sliding toward the end of the 1st round. If he falls out of the 1st round entirely, he won’t have to wait for long on the 2nd night of the draft to hear his name called. Being drafted late in the 1st round could be a blessing in disguise for Shaq because he would be going to a playoff team from the year before. I wouldn’t be surprised if the team with the last pick in the 1st round takes a look at Thompson.

I am sure that you won’t like my projection Rich, am I correct?

 

Rich:

Well Brent, I actually fall more inline with some of your analysis on Thompson’s draft place and success. While I agree that he could be a great special teams player, he also could be a bust at linebacker like Aaron Curry. I think his future is at a hybrid LB/SS position that will become more and more prevalent as the NFL continues to evolve. I see him as a safety on first and second down, and moving to a 3rd down linebacker in a nickel or dime package on 3rd down.

The Arizona Cardinals currently uses this hybrid position in their defensive schemes. Since the NFL is a copycat league expect to see more of this in the future (The Cardinals use a version of the Air Force Falcons 3-3-5 or 3-3 stack scheme; the Falcons have one free safety, two corner backs, and two “Falconbacks.” These Falconbacks are hybrid LB/SS types. They do a bit of everything).

Thompson will be drafted between the late 1st round and the end of the 2nd round. His combine performance was somewhat disappointing. He didn’t improve his stock with the bevy of scouts and GMs in Indianapolis this past weekend. 

Ultimately, his pro day at UW will determine his final draft position. His lack of a defined true position will cause some teams to pass on him no matter what. They will not want the headache from the media (that’s us here at Seattle Side Up) that will come with the many questions of where he fits on the football field.

Bottom line: he is a great football player that needs to add some mass, and then he won’t have people asking him where he belongs. 

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Abraham DeWeese is an avid local sports fan and a “Man-About-Town” in the Seattle sports scene. He's a lifelong resident of the Seattle area, living in the beautiful Greenlake neighborhood.