Shaq Thompson arrived at the NFL combine Saturday with a list of possible positions almost as long as some of his runs during his final season at the University of Washington.
INDIANAPOLIS — Shaq Thompson arrived at the NFL combine Saturday with a list of possible positions almost as long as some of his runs during his final season at the University of Washington.
Is he a linebacker? A safety? Or maybe, as an NFL.com report suggested earlier this week, seen by a team as possibly still having a future at running back?
“You don’t put a label on him,” said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock on Saturday, adding that Thompson’s greatest value is that on defense he can be “a three-down player.”
Combine at a glance
What happened: Quarterbacks, running backs and receivers conducted on-field tests.
The big story: The marquee names of the draft — quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota — finally took the field. To no one’s surprise, Mariota was a lot faster, running a best of 4.52 in the 40 to Winston’s 4.97. Most analysts judged the two as essentially equal in their throws, the consensus also that their showing was one of the best seen at the combine in years. “I thought the top two guys were outstanding,” said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock in a news conference wrapping up the day. In other words, nothing to dissuade the idea they will be the top two picks in the draft.
Michael Bennett, meet Michael Bennett? One player considered among the best defensive-tackle prospects in the draft comes with a name familiar to Seattle fans — Michael Bennett. This Bennett attended Ohio State and at 6 feet 2, 295 pounds is more of an interior player. Like Seattle’s Michael Bennett, he’s also good with a quote, telling reporters that he’s limited his Twitter activity in the run-up to the draft because his mind can “go to weird places” and he doesn’t want to give teams any reason not to want to select him. As for any connection to Seattle’s Michael Bennett, he said no. He’s never met him. “I’ve never talked to him, nothing like that,” he said.
What’s next: Defensive linemen and linebackers will go through on-field tests Sunday.
An hour or so earlier, though, it was Thompson who was adamant that all the questions had a simple answer.
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“Outside linebacker,” he said when asked what position he considers himself as he took the podium for his mandatory media session.
And to a flurry of questions that followed, Thompson stuck to that script.
He laughed off the report that he might do running back drills here, and then said any thought of him playing that spot in the NFL is “out of the question.”
And as for safety? Well, if a team insists.
“I’m gonna put it out there that I want to play linebacker,” he said. “But I can’t say no to (safety).”
Mayock is among those who thinks Thompson, who measured 6 feet and 228 pounds, might be best-suited to be a strong safety.
“Shaq Thompson is one of the most fun guys to watch on tape this year,” Mayock said before the combine. “I know GMs who are looking at him as a running back, linebacker and safety. Most teams as a linebacker. I’ve got him as a safety. I think he can be a Kam Chancellor-type on first down in your base, then drop down and play linebacker in your dime. And that’s really important in today’s world.”
Thompson, though, said linebacker is where he wants to start and stay.
“That’s where I feel the most comfortable,” he said. “I like to be up by the line of scrimmage. I feel like I’m physical enough. I’m not the biggest guy, but I have a lot of heart.”
Thompson said he began to feel like a linebacker during the 2013 season at Washington.
He’d been a do-everything player at Sacramento’s Grant High School and signed with UW as the gem of the 2012 class, considered by many as the top safety prospect in the nation.
But then-UW defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox — whose move to Washington that year Thompson cited as a reason he chose the school — asked him to move to linebacker early in his freshman year.
“I said, ‘OK, coach,’ ” Thompson recalled. “There’s not much I can say, right?”
“My sophomore year, I felt it was the spot for me. Had my reads right. I felt like my feet were mounted at one position as opposed to multiple positions.”
Thompson now specifically wants to be an outside linebacker, either on the strong or the weak side.
Some have questioned if he’s big enough, some analysts saying he struggled at times to get off blocks.
Thompson said he doesn’t think that’s valid criticism.
“I feel like size doesn’t matter,” he said. “There were a couple of times where I didn’t get off blocks. But there were other times when I did. If you’re a playmaker, you’re gonna make a play regardless, whether you’re getting blocked or not getting blocked. That’s part of my game I need to tighten up, and I’m getting better at it.”
The general assumption is that he will, with many mock drafts pegging Thompson for the mid-to-late first round.
And, Thompson said, with linebacker next to his name on the card.