With the NFL Scouting Combine in the books, the focus can return to scouting the players. With the excellent quarterbacks and offenses NFL, team will need to find as many talented defensive backs as possible to slow opposing offenses down. Dave Archibald examines safety Darian Thompson in our latest scouting profile.
After a productive career for the Broncos, including 19 career interceptions, and a solid Senior Bowl where he earned the nod as MVP of the North squad, Boise State’s Darian Thompson established himself as perhaps the top pure safety in the draft (excluding the multi-talented Jalen Ramsey). Then he bombed the Combine and left draft pundits revising their boards. Mike Mayock ranked Thompson the third-best safety in the class prior to the Combine, but dropped him out of his top five after the senior’s poor tests. Thompson has become something of a draft evaluator Rorschach test: Metrics-heavy analysts hate his Combine performance, while the tape-obsessed largely love his game film. Others in the middle are second-guessing their film analysis – if Thompson is this bad an athlete, maybe his tape isn’t really as impressive as they initially thought?
Tale of the Tape
The chart below shows Thompson’s measurement and performance in Combine drills, as well as the percentile rank of how these figures stack up to other safeties since 1999:
|Height||Weight||Arm Length||Hand Span||40-Yard||Vertical||Broad Jump||Short Shuttle||3-Cone|
Data from NFLCombineResults.com and NFL.com
Woof. Ethan Young of profootballspot.com pegs Thompson’s composite SLA ranking (SLA: size, length, athleticism) as the fifth-worst among safeties since 1999. Thompson was apparently sick at the Combine, causing him to lose seven pounds. He improved to a 4.60 40 and benched 13 reps at his Pro Day but did not re-test in the other drills.
The good news for Thompson is that safety is not a position that requires elite physical tools. Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, Dashon Goldson, and Husain Abdullah had similar Combines and have gone on to solid NFL careers.
The Broncos mixed up their coverages and Thompson had the opportunity to make plays in a variety of defensive looks. Facing the quarterback, he makes the best use of his timing, understanding of passing concepts, and ball skills to break up and intercept passes:
The above video has picks from deep zone in both Cover 1 and Cover 2, another interception in Cover 4, and a big-time hit from a robber zone in Cover 2 to force another turnover. Lacking are plays where he ranges from between the hashes to the sideline to break up a pass attacking the honey hole. Such a clip would assuage concerns about his range, given his poor testing. Thompson shows awareness of his zone responsibilities, when to pass off routes, which receivers to pick up, and how teams are attacking his zone.
Boise State frequently used Thompson in the box or in the slot to cover tight ends and slot receivers. He is aggressive jumping routes and can stick tight with receivers through breaks and extended plays:
Very quick players can give Thompson trouble – the long touchdown against Virginia running back Taquan Mizzell illustrates that he has no business covering certain receivers. I saw few if any examples of Thompson playing press man coverage and cannot evaluate him in that scheme. He is long and shows timing and athleticism to break up passes.
Run Defense / Tackling
Thompson has a big frame and tackles effectively, though he rarely stops runners dead in their tracks. He is aggressive in run support and had 8.5 tackles for loss in his senior season:
Thompson’s aggression works against him at times, as he will overrun plays coming from deep zones and charges in too out-of-control to respond to cuts and jukes. He needs to improve his ability to defeat blocks and stay alive on run plays.
Thompson missed two games late in his senior season with a concussion. He avoided major injury in his college career but did miss a handful of games his sophomore year.
Laurie Horesh of Fox Sports Australia isn’t concerned about Thompson’s Combine:
Not weighing 'concerns' with combine athleticism over Darian Thompson's play speed, anticipation, timing & ball-hawking #SafetyTakesAUS
— Laurie Horesh (@LaurieHoresh) April 12, 2016
Justin Gammel has a less rosy take on Thompson’s future but still sees an NFL role for him:
Darian Thompson isn't a top guy for me and doesn't have a set safety role in the NFL. But I see him as a chess piece like Micah Hyde in GB.
— Justen Gammel (@gamscout) March 7, 2016
Thompson’s interception numbers are impressive, as Chargers Legion notes:
Safety Darian Thompson from Boise State the next Eric Weddle? He broke Eric Weddle's Mountain West Conference interception record
— ⚡️ChargersLegion⚡️ (@ChargersLegion) February 9, 2016
Thompson has a fine breadth of skills that will acquit him well in a variety of systems. He may not possess the elite range of a prototypical free safety nor the linebacker-esque hitting power of an ideal strong safety, but for teams which ask their safeties to show elements of both those skill sets –which is most of the NFL – he fits in nicely. While most of the draft sites list Thompson as a free safety, he can maximize his playmaking ability closer to the line of scrimmage in man-to-man coverage or robber zones. His Combine results give me some pause, but his illness likely explains some of his results and safety is not a position that relies heavily on athleticism. I am bullish on Thompson’s future and believe he can contribute to the secondary of most NFL teams.
Follow @davearchie on Twitter. Check out his other work here, or his scouting profile of DeAndre Houston-Carson and the hidden game of Super Bowl 50.
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