Now as for the countdown, today is the seventh player on the list and wouldn't you know it, he comes from a seventh different school. Today's subject is Washington S/OLB Shaq Thompson. The six players previously revealed on the list of the Top 40 players in the Pac-12 are:
40. WR Chris Harper, Cal
39. OLB/S Dion Bailey, USC
38. S Alden Darby, Arizona St.
37. LT Tyler Johnstone, Oregon
36. Chidera Uzo-Diribe, Colorado
35. S Deone Buchanen, Washington St.
Despite only being a college player for one year, there is already a lot of “what ifs?” tied to Thompson’s brief career. What if Tosh Lupoi wasn’t revealed as a disingenuous snake oil salesman when he betrayed all of the kids at Cal who were his “best friends” and “like sons” and jumped to Washington which caused Thompson to decommit from the Bears. What if Thompson had gone through with best buddy Arik Armstead’s idea to be a package deal at Oregon. What if Thompson had chosen to play professional baseball instead of enrol-hahahahah okay no, that one never had a chance.
Regardless, Shaq Thompson has experienced a lot of uncertainty in his short career but he seems to have found a home at Washington and is all set to become one of the most versatile and dynamic defensive players in recent memory. Thompson’s position is a little tough to explain. Thompson was hailed as one of the great high school safeties to ever play football on the West Coast but when he arrived in Seattle, he found that UW Defensive Cordinator Justin Wilcox wanted him to play Linebacker instead. Of course calling the position Thompson plays a “Linebacker” isn’t really accurate because that would imply that Thompson has a lot of responsibilities against the run and that UW ran a 4-3 defense last fall.
UW really ran a 4-2-5 disguised as a 4-3 with Thompson being the key element who made UW’s alignment a more modern system. Washington essentially had Nickel personnel on the field at all times but lined them up in a 4-3 with Thompson playing the role of the Nickelback while lined up as a linebacker on the strong side of the offensive formation. His responsibilities were pretty basic as he played a lot of zone coverage in Cover 2, UW’s most often used scheme. He was also UW’s most frequently used contain man against dual-threat quarterbacks and he picked up short coverage responsibilities admirably when the Huskies went to a Cover 3. As the season went along though, Thompson got a lot better at those responsibilities and Wilcox started throwing more responsibilities at him. Thompson racked up 74 Tackles (44 solo), 8.5 TFLs, 2 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 6 passes defended.
That’s a full stat line and a very admirable freshman performance but in order to truly appreciate how much better he got as the season went along and what we can look forward to in 2013, take a look at his numbers in November. In the final four games of the season, Thompson garnered five of his six pass deflections, almost half of his TFLs and two of his three interceptions. Project that out over a whole season and you get some borderline First Team All-American numbers which is what Thompson could be very soon if he keeps developing at this rate.
In order for Thompson to go higher on this list and realize his full potential, Justin Wilcox needs to expand his role in the defense. I would love to see him added to UW’s blitz packages more frequently. I also would love to see him used as an edge pass rusher on third and long. He doesn’t have the size to play that position but his length, athleticism, and strength could allow him to make some plays as a pass rusher in specific situations. I would also like to see him cover tight ends more frequently. He’s listed at 6-2 and 225 but looking at him especially beside other players, I get the feeling he’s actually a little bigger. No defensive player is big enough to match up perfectly with Tight Ends but Thompson is about as close as it gets. That combined with his speed, strength, and natural coverage skills make him an ideal coverage man against top Tight Ends.
Thompson has all the talent in the world and he showed it a lot last year when he took a starting job from day one with the Huskies and had a good enough season to be named a Freshman All-American. Once I see him get an expanded role in UW’s defense and start making big plays all over the field, I’ll have him higher on this list, a lot higher.