Does a slow 40 time spell doom for this promising young safety?
The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we open with a focus on the safety position. Today we look at Darian Thompson out of Boise State.
One thing we can conclude about Darian Thompson is that he is not lacking in experience by any means. The Boise State safety will be entering the draft this spring as a redshirt senior, a title so rare in college athletics today that it deserves a round of applause. Four years as a Bronco served Thompson well as he totaled 242 tackles, (149 solo, 15 for a loss) nine passes defended, and an astounding 19 interceptions in 51 games. A two-time first team All-Mountain West selection, Thompson was also recognized with All-American honors by Sports Illustrated (honorable mention) and the Associated Press (third team) in 2015. He also qualified as a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award this past fall, given to the most outstanding defensive back annually.
Some guys are just entertaining to watch when you turn on the game film, and Thompson definitely falls under that criteria. With intriguing size at 6‘2,” 208 pounds, the Boise product plays the safety position the way it was meant to be played. Thompson is a true punisher (as you can see below) who hits with a purpose whether it be in run support or after a completed pass. Although many are concerned about the 4.69 40-yard dash time he posted at the Combine a week ago, this kid plays much faster on the field when he is chasing down ball-carriers. Thompson’s closing speed to break up a pass or come up to fill a hole against the run is one of the more impressive attributes he possesses. There are a lot of defensive players around the league who carry around the “big hitter” label, but sometimes the better tackle is just the secure one. Thompson for the most part does a good job of this, especially when he is down in the box defending the run.
But don’t make the mistake of thinking Thompson is a one-dimensional football player; he’s plenty capable in coverage as well. Thompson earned himself the reputation of being a ball magnet at Boise State, managing to capture an absurd 19 interceptions. You have to be doing something right on the back end of a defense to find the ball in your hands that often, and for Thompson I think it starts with his ability to diagnose what is in front of him and anticipate what the offense is trying to accomplish. Some players just have that knack for being at the right place at the right time, and I am willing to bet there are a lot of general managers and head coaches who will take that every day of the week. Overall, Darian Thompson is an all-around playmaker who is not short on upside for the next level.
While Thompson will give one of 32 coaching staffs plenty to work with in a few months, he is going to have to do a little bit of learning before he can fully contribute. What scares me the most about the promising safety are his tendencies to be overaggressive at times and take false steps. For players who love to anticipate like Thompson, this can be a hard habit to break. However, it is a habit that must be broken to survive in the NFL.
Looking over the film, Thompson can be baited on play action passes and get caught peeking into the backfield for too long. At the college level Thompson’s opposition rarely capitalized on his overaggression. However, I can promise you it will matter on Sundays where the competition is faster, smarter, and superior. Priority one of being a safety is making sure nobody gets behind you, and that is something Thompson needs to keep in mind going forward. Other areas that need improvement are getting off of blocks in the open field and the occasional overshooting of ball-carriers when asked to make an open field tackle. The 40 time he ran last week also cannot be forgotten, but I do not foresee it being an issue based on the way he plays.
Darian Thompson is a savvy, physical football player who can contribute in a variety of ways. The more you can do, the more valuable you become, and those words have never been more true than in today’s NFL. Thompson reminds me of a safety I reviewed a few years back, Arizona’s Deone Bucannon. Hard hitting, multi-dimensional safeties who can play several different roles for your defense are nice chess pieces to have. Thompson has too much potential to slide past day two of the draft, so anticipate him being selected in either round two or three.
I am keeping this simpler than in years past because trying to figure out the NFL draft is the equivalent to comprehending how Steph Curry does what he does. Thompson looks and plays like a Pittsburgh Steeler to me, and it just so happens they need some serious help in the secondary. Safety Will Allen will be hitting free agency in a week, and so will corners William Gay and Brandon Boykin. Pittsburgh’s defense has hardly looked as stout as it once did as of late, so how about bringing in Thompson to try and re-instill a fierce defensive culture that the Steelers have always prided themselves on?
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- Boise State
- Texas Tech