Prior to the NFL Combine, Deionte Thompson was seen as a top-5 safety in the 2019 NFL Draft. However, after the combine and a strong performance at Pro Day, Thompson may be the best safety in this draft.
Deionte Thompson is competing with many safeties who are qualified in many separate categories. These include playing in the slot, playing as a free safety, and playing more as a run defender in a strong safety approach. Coming into the 2019 NFL Draft he is seen as the best free safety in the draft due to many strengths. However, he also has many weaknesses that hold him back from being the best safety in each category.
Although Thompson has been seen as the best safety in the draft, he has many basics he must work on or he will, unfortunately, bust in the NFL. Thompson does possess some strengths that emulate some of the greatest that have played. That could help him become the next great safety.
In this article, we will look at Thompson’s zone and man defense, run defense, speed, tackling, basic hip movement and footwork.
Zone defense is Thompson’s bread and butter. Thompson has great acceleration and speed as well as great zone vision too. He is knowledgeable with deep Cover 2 or Cover 1 zone defenses and can treck through zones and locations on the field in order to make a play on the ball.
In this clip, Thompson is playing free safety on the far side of the field and has a Cover 1 scheme. He must cover all the ground in the blue circle against the three receivers placed in a trips formation on the right side of the field.
On the snap of the ball, Thomspon opens up his hips so he can track ground quickly while taking a quick glare at the receivers to see where they were located. Thompson then eyes back in the backfield to watch the quarterback’s eyes while backpedaling. He is able to get in his zone quick enough that he slows down and reads the receiver coming across and the quarterback’s arms coming through on his throw. Thompson crashes down to break up the pass.
In the next clip, Thompson is playing his half of the field in another zone scheme. Thompson works his way back with fluidity as the red circle shows his hips stay loose. He is able to swivel them in order to get into position. At first, he was a bit behind as he should have been more over the top of the receiver, but Thompson saves himself with his speed and an average angle. He also saves himself with his long reach so he can intercept the pass.
This is easily his best trait but still can use a bit of practicing so he can be nearly perfect.
Man to Man Coverage
Thompson makes the play at the end of the day, but scouts may notice more than just a pass breakup. The receiver runs an out route and Thompson plays off of the man compared to press coverage. Off the snap, Thompson takes a false step, an unnecessary step that slows you down, when he steps back with his left foot. Thompson also does not show full confidence or physical prominence as he lightly hits the receiver and trails him. However, once again, a long reach and speed save Thompson.
Although it was not the worst man to man coverage, it will need more work in the NFL. This especially when you consider teams are running it about 50% of their plays.
As a free safety, run defense is not his main priority nor his best trait. But at the end of the day, Thompson is a decent run defender. The part holding him back the most from being a great run defender is the multiple false steps he takes. This will need to be fixed with confidence and muscle memory as well as tackling struggles.
Nonetheless, in this clip below Thomspon does everything perfectly.
Thompson starts 10 yards off the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped. Within about 2 seconds he clears the offensive line and meets the running back 2 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Thompson blows by the offensive line with speed then slows down near the line of scrimmage to chop his steps and follow the running back’s angle. Here, Thompson takes a great approach as he takes his time to follow the running backs hips. Thompson cuts down space then wraps around the legs and takes down the running back.
Although Thompson never ran an official 40-yard dash, most experts believe he can run in between a 4.4 and a 4.45. His sloppy footwork is what holds him back from being possibly the fastest safety in the draft and NFL. Despite that lack of footwork, his acceleration and speed is something that should not be overlooked.
Here we see Thompson flash glimpses of the great Sean Taylor. Thompson starts at the hash marks and nearly intercepts the ball at the sideline in about 2 seconds. This speed is a one-of-a-kind type of speed that can keep Thompson rolling in this league and make him elite in a few years.
Most speedy, smaller defensive backs have gone to ankle wrapping nowadays. It is very risky and can haunt defenses if the tackle is not made. At 6’2″ and 195 pounds, he may not be small in height, but Thompson’s weight causes him to ankle wrap like a smaller defensive back. Also, with bigger players in the NFL, many coaches and scouts are worried about his dependability and durability with how light he is.
The ankle wrapping hurts his tackling rating and trait tremendously.
In this play, Thompson is in the right position after reading the screen well. Instead of taking a good angle and making a tackle or trying to shove the receiver out of bounds, Thompson leaps and misses the ankle. This allows the receiver to break free down the sideline.
Thompson has done this several times, even in big games too.
Thompson’s angle and footwork kill him once again against Clemson in the National Championship game.
Thompson takes a wide approach that opens up the middle of the field and does not slow down and chop his feet. This causes the aggression to kill him as the receiver catches it and turns inside. Thompson cannot change direction until he regathers his balance and feet.
Thompson is a raw talent with many possibilities of busting or blooming. His reputation of not playing well against tougher competition and discipline problems after a legal issue also hurts his draft stock. Not to mention, he’ll need to improve on his footwork and tackling problems.
He must work on those as well as perfect his strengths in speed, zone coverage, and run defense. By the end of the draft, Thompson will most likely be competing for a starting position though he may be a substitute coming in only a few times his rookie year until he develops.