2015 NFL Draft Preview: OLB Shaq Thompson
The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2015 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This sixth week, the focus is on linebackers. Because many college defensive ends transition to linebacker in the NFL, we would like to clarify that all players being analyzed this week played linebacker in college. Our first linebacker prospect is Shaq Thompson out of Washington.
Surprisingly, Thompson began collegiate play as a defensive back, playing in 13 games as a freshman, racking up 74 total tackles and intercepting three passes. He also defended six passes, recovered a fumble, and recorded two sacks.
His final two seasons as a Husky were spent as a linebacker, almost entirely in coverage. In those two years, Thompson notched 159 total tackles, eight defended passes, and 1.5 sacks, and he returned two interceptions and three fumbles for touchdowns. In his senior season, he also had 61 carries, as a running back, for 456 yards and two scores. He received the 2014 Paul Hornung Award, which is given to the most versatile college player.
His versatility is a huge plus, as he can play both inside and outside linebacker, and he could line up at safety, or even running back, in a pinch. Some scouts even wonder if he should be drafted as a safety instead of a linebacker, but the jury is still out on that. Thompson is said to read the quarterback well, and he plays best as a zone-coverage linebacker.
Thompson can flat out make big plays. Players do not luck into four defensive touchdowns in one year. Take a look at this 99-yard fumble returned for a touchdown against Cal. (Note: The video is sped up during the runback.)
In addition to his overall talent, everyone says that Thompson works hard and puts the team before himself.
At 228 pounds, and often playing under that, Thompson is undersized for an NFL linebacker. However if he bulks up during the offseason, he can make a real impact for a needy team, especially considering all the positions he can play. He also does not blitz well, and is often knocked off course by opposing linemen. Finally, he leads with his shoulder when tackling, rather than wrapping up opponents.
Thompson will probably not sneak into the first round, and right now I would guess that he is a mid-second round pick. His versatility and athleticism should lead a team to take a chance on him early. Coverage linebackers are always needed in the NFL, and Thompson can make a name for himself by starting on a middling team.
Thompson’s best fit is dependent on whether he is drafted as a linebacker or a safety. I will assume that he stays in the front seven, and if that ends up being the case I could see him as a Bear or Giant. Both teams need help at outside linebacker, and they could use Thompson’s versatility as well.