What to do with Shaq Thompson

One of the things I am enjoying about this year’s draft is the potential storylines that are emerging. No one knows where Mariota will go for example, in mock drafts I’ve seen him taken from no. 2- to no. 20. The Raiders have a chance to pick up a legitimate weapon, but will it be Kevin White or Amari Cooper, 2 players that both have very little downside. But for me the most interesting story is that of Shaq Thompson, in particular, where he will end up and at what position.

To get an idea of the issue that NFL GMs will have with Shaq, let’s have a look at his stats for last season. At line-backer, Thompson had 81 combined tackles, 1 interception for a TD and 3 forced fumbles for a TD. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. At running back he had an average yards-per-carry of 7.5 and 2 touchdowns. Thompson was effective on both sides of the ball.

The biggest issue however isn’t so much which side of the ball he lines up on. With his running back days seemingly behind him, the problem becomes his size. Thompson is 6’0 and weighs in at 228lbs. Thompson is light, but at the same time by no means the lightest line-backer and he’s not particularly tall, but by no means the shortest person to play the position. So what’s the issue?

Before we get into the best fit for Shaq Thompson, we need to look at the modern day NFL, a game that has changed an awful lot of late. In the last 5 years we’ve seen the speed of offence increase to ridiculous level, learning from college coaches and taking advantage of a less violent game. One particular aspect of this is the increase in the use of ‘no-huddle’ offences to create mismatches against a defence that simply doesn’t have time to swap personnel out. As a result of this, the amount of nickel defence has increased, with teams lining up with more than 4 defensive backs no less than 45% of the time in the 2013 season, meaning that the standard 4-3/ 3-4 defence is not really an accurate description of defensive schemes any more. With this came the need to employ hybrid safeties, that can fill in at line-backer, obvious examples being Troy Polamalu, Charles Woodson (in particular in his role for the Packers) and Kam Chancellor, all of whom are big vicious hitters feared by receivers and can change up their role at a moment’s notice.

It’s at this hybrid position that Shaq Thompson could find his home.

Thompson has stated that he’d rather play line-backer, but the truth is there is a lack of talent at safety in this year’s draft and Thompson could be considered in the top 5 at safety. That being said it seems that NFL scouts are legitimately on the fence about him, with some believing he’s a safety and some seeing him fit into a standard 4/3 defensive front on the weak side.

Where ever he ends up there’s a number of teams that could use his talents. The obvious dream landing spot for me would be with the Jets in Todd Bowles’ defensive system. With Arizona Bowles would often line up with between 5 and 7 big defensive backs, like Deone Bucannon, who picked up 81 tackles coming on as a 6th DB and slotted in at line-backer. The Packers haven’t had a player that has carried out the Woodson role since he left. Adding Thompson would mean the Packers could move him forward to inside line-backer or have him on the field as an extra defensive back. With Green Bay he’d have time to learn his trade too, probably seeing very limited snaps. The Eagles are in the market for a safety and if they don’t get a shot a London Collins (who has is the same height and weight as Thompson), they could potentially move back in the draft to pick up Shaq. Finally the Jaguars could be in play for Thompson, maybe seeing him as a potential Kam Chancellor for their copycat defence.

Shaq Thompson is a player that has the scouting community divided, but if a team can put him into a system that takes advantage of his talents, they could be picking up a bargain late in the 1st or early in the 2nd.