One of these Washington running backs is not like the others. Two of the three backs are physical runners and the other is a pass catching back. Thompson is the latter, a fifth year receiving back out of Florida State, whose production has been steadily rising after seeing the field more in the last couple seasons. His snaps have increased this season with Matt Jones now elsewhere, Kelley missing the Week 3 game against the Raiders with a rib injury, and Perine leaving the game against the Raiders early with a knee injury. In 2017, Thompson already has 14 rushes for 119 yards for a ridiculous 5.9 yards per carry. Thompson’s more utilized in the passing game, however. Thus far he’s caught 13 passes on 19 targets for 231 yards for an average of 17.8 yards per catch. He has four total touchdowns – two rushing and two receiving.
Despite his great performances through three weeks Thompson is not expected to get more touches moving forward. According to Pro Football Talk, Coach Jay Gruden isn’t going to increase Thompson’s workload.
“Gruden said that Kelley remains “our No. 1 lead dog” in the backfield and Thompson doesn’t fit the same profile for between the tackles work, but continued playmaking should ensure he remains a big part of the offense all year.”
Washington is clearly dedicated to hard nose physical runners toting the rock in their backfield with Kelley and Perine as they run more power blocking scheme concepts. Listed at 5’8”, 191 pounds, Thompson’s frame and style don’t quite match up with Gruden’s ideal every down back. Keeping his workload the same is also precautionary for Gruden as he doesn’t want his third down back taking too many hits. Thompson has had trouble with injuries in previous seasons before playing in every game in 2016.
Crack Toss Sweep
On 2nd and 4 to start the 2nd quarter up 3-0, Washington lined up in 11 personnel. Kirk Cousins motions Jordan Reed (#86) to the opposite side of the formation. When the ball is snapped Reed is going to crack block the OLB Robert Quinn (#94) while LT Trent Williams (#71) and Spencer Long (#61) pull to the outside. Note, that’s very good athletic ability for a center by Long to execute this block. Thompson receives the toss and gets to the outside and because of his excellent blocking only has one man to beat near the goal line, S Maurice Alexander (#31). Thompson displays his very good athletic ability and competitive toughness by diving for the end zone and reach the ball past the pylon while taking the hit for a touchdown.
On 3rd and 6 from the Raiders’ 22 yard line tied at 0-0 early in the 1st quarter, Washington lines up in 11 personnel. Prior to the snap Cousins is trying to figure out what Oakland is doing to his left and uses the hard count to get rookie LB Nicholas Morrow (#50) to show his hand. Cousins screams, “BLITZ 50” to let his line know to adjust to the blitz from the left side. When the ball is snapped Morrow and S Reggie Nelson (#37) both blitz from the left and Washington picks it up perfectly. Because both Morrow and Nelson blitz this leave Thompson wide open on the flat route. This is a more of a mistake on the Raiders part, but the impressive part of this all is Thompson’s speed.
Thompson should pick up a lot of yards on this play, but he probably shouldn’t score given the advantage the rookie Gareon Conley (#22) has in yards to the end zone. Conley is thrown off a bit covering Vernon Davis on the play, but it’s still impressive by Thompson to beat Conley’s angle to the end zone for the first score of the game.
Thompson’s had a lot of huge plays for Washington. In addition to those plays above, he’s scored on a 61 yard trap play against the Rams and recorded a 74 yard play on a screen while lined up as a receiver outside. The Washington offense is being creative in designing for Thompson’s athletic skill set to get him in space.
On this next play against the Rams, Washington motions Thompson to the other side of Cousins which also moves the defender responsible for him, Alexander, prior to the snap. When the ball is snapped he runs a route across the backfield into the flat with no defender near him for a 15 yard gain. This is because Alexander is essentially being picked by his own teammates.
Overall, Thompson is a complimentary third down back used predominantly in the passing game, but has filled in in the run game more than he’s usually asked due to injuries to Kelley and Perine. Washington mainly uses Thompson lined up in the backfield from the shotgun where he runs quick routes to the flat, angles, and screens. He also can line up in the slot or outside as a receiver. In the running game he’s best suited running to the outside. Washington calls crack toss sweeps for Thompson to have blockers and space to the outside. He’s a weapon in open space that uses quick cuts to maneuver through blocks and speed to outrun defensive backs.
Thompson is the perfect example of a player who’s making the most of his touches when he’s called upon. His timely playmaking ability has been key in Washington’s two wins this season against the Los Angeles Rams and Oakland Raiders. Thompson may not get more touches moving forward, but he’s definitely a threat when he lines up in the backfield.