I have never been a scout or a NFL General Manager, but I am willing to watch a ton of football. By watching about 200 snaps of each prospect, we can really get a feel for a player and then know what we are talking about a bit better. It is no exact science, but the NFL hasn't quite figured out drafting either, so we are going to do the best we can.
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Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington - 6'2, 230 - Junior
There is something we should get out in the open here before we dive too deep into a guy like Shaq Thompson. There are two types of analysts. Those who see what a guy is and those who see what a guy could be. One doesn't take much uncommon ability and the other is like speculating on stocks - risky and sometimes, reckless. I am certainly more of the former than the latter.
Now, Shaq Thompson, to many is one of the most intriguing characters in the 2015 draft. First off, we have been hearing about him for a while because not only is a he a 2-sport guy (drafted by the Boston Red Sox), but he is also a many position guy who won the Paul Hornung award for multi-positional players in college football. His makeup is off the charts as a guy who handles any interview quite well and seems to be a leader of men. He is exciting and more than anything, has a very uncommon knack for scoring touchdowns as a defensive player - which is a very impressive trick. To break him down we looked at Stanford, Oregon, and Illinois.
What I liked: It is tough to know where to start with Thompson, because he is one of the best examples of why scouts don't use highlight tapes to make evaluations. When we talk about seeing 200 plays, it is because there are players who have 10 that dazzle and you don't want to get fooled by a cherry-picked sample. That said, the best part of his game is it appears he can play all sorts of places on your defense. Now, Washington was a very loaded defense and we shouldn't forget that, but it sure looks like Shaq was flipped the keys to it and told to do whatever he liked. Some plays he is the inside linebacker. Some plays he is an edge rusher. Some plays he is a 2-deep safety 20 yards back and moving fluidly. Sometimes he is covering, sometimes he is blitzing. And yes, 61 times this season, he was the guy who got the ball as a running back for 456 yards rushing. He literally is a "football player" first and a specific positional player, second. He is very fast - his speed might be his best attribute - and explosive and looks best when playing downhill. But, more than anything, he appears to be a ball hawk who finds the ball and makes plays.
What I did not like: Now, this might be controversial to say about Thompson who seems to be universally liked, but I am not sure what he is outstanding at when it comes to figuring out how to use him. As a linebacker, he appears to be more of a safety. He just doesn't have the power to really deal with a run play right at him where he has to shed and make a tackle consistently enough. As a pass rusher, he is certainly out of his element. As a safety, he seems decent, and as a running back, he seems like a change of pace possibility or perhaps an emergency possibility. So, what does that mean? It means I am not sure what specific place he would just be plugged in and be instantly exceptional. He is a "swiss army knife" in that he can do many things well for you. I just wonder about the imagination necessary to make him work because as a straight linebacker, I think I like Dawson from TCU more. I think I might play him like a safety in the box and use that Kam Chancellor mode again, but that might suggest he would be best put on a team that already has most of its pieces in place and wants a versatile weapon to use in so many spots.
Summary: I see the appeal and the highlights show him running back another interception or fumble recovery for a touchdown. There is something to be said for a ball hawk who always finds the ball and knows how to get it and then what to do with it. I also love the idea that he is so versatile in what he does. But, if I am going to spend a 1st round pick, there better be one position in particular where I think he can be a pro-bowl player for me, or I should keep shopping, and since I am not great at imagining his future, based on his present tense, I would not say I see the sure-fire 1st round prospect that others see. This would require a bit of development and patience to make him the LB you are looking for. There is a lot to like here, but I would try to wait a round and that means someone else is going to take him.