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2019 NFL Supplemental Draft: What Jalen Thompson brings to Arizona Cardinals

Supplemental Draft
Photo Credit: KGMI.com

Last year, the NFL Supplemental Draft produced two draft picks. This was a nice change of pace as it had generated just one pick since 2012. Then again, it should come as little surprise because the supplemental draft typically makes little impact on a team’s outlook. At this point in the process, teams are going to run with what they have and preserve their draft capital. However, we’ve seen Pro Bowlers Ahmad Brooks and Josh Gordon make their way into the league via the supplemental draft.

This year’s pool featured another couple of players who were expected to draw a selection. West Virginia’s Marcus Simms announced his entry into the supplemental draft towards the end of June. Jalen Thompson followed suit about a week later due to violation of NCAA rules.

The 2019 NFL Supplemental Draft came and went with only Thompson drawing a bid. Early rumblings cited the Packers as the favorite to land Thompson. However, it was the Arizona Cardinals who ended up with the former Washington State Cougar at the price of a fifth-round selection. What exactly does he bring to the team?

Where Jalen Thompson excels

Thompson was a catalyst during 2018 in what was arguably Washington State’s most storied season in program history. The standout safety ranked fourth on the team in tackles and tied for the team lead in pass deflections with eight. Set to enter the 2019 college season, Thompson was widely regarded as the top safety in the Pac 12 and a consensus conference All American.

Often deployed as a safety/nickel back hybrid, Jalen Thompson is best known for his coverage skills. You’ll frequently find him patrolling the slot on third down. He’s efficient from that spot, often sticking with his man and carrying them across the field. With that, he displays good timing to make a play on the ball and disrupt the pass. Thompson doesn’t get overzealous in coverage and sits back while staying patient, waiting for his man to make the first move.

Not exactly sticky in coverage, Thompson does well with his man in front of him as he eases his way back in zone coverage. He possesses the instincts to pounce and react to the play in a timely manner. He’s not afraid to use his hands to impede the receiver’s route when working out of soft press coverage. Last season, he tied for the team lead with 8 passes defended and ended his career in Pullman with 6 interceptions.

As a coverage specialist, Thompson moves around the field extremely well. He’s quicker than fast and displays smooth footwork in his backpedal. Although, he posted a more than respectable 4.47 40-yard dash at his Pro Day. He didn’t get to showcase his range all that much in college, but that 40 time is an encouraging indicator.

Areas of improvement

In a league gravitating towards hybrid safeties who can cover and provide support in run defense, Thompson checks one of those boxes. Working downhill, he’s had his fair share of struggles. In space, he diagnoses well but shows inconsistencies in his angles. He also slows up towards the point of attack and displays pitter-patter feet as he approaches the ball carrier.

While Thompson is willing to scrap it up and get physical, too often he’s roughed up at the point of attack and struggles to hold his ground. Poor tackling technique compounds the issue. When taking on contact he frequently dips his upper half and fails to keep his shoulders square to his target. Thompson’s size also drew red flags as he is quite small and thin for a safety, at 5’10”, 187 pounds. Flatout, Thompson just isn’t an imposing presence.

Not particularly a weakness, Thompson’s range in coverage remains a question mark. While he took a good amount of snaps as a high safety, he was rarely tested and never got to prowl in a ball-hawking role. His 40 time helped shed some light on what he could be capable of, but we’ll have to see how he holds up on the field in that department.

How Thompson fits in Arizona

I’m quite surprised Arizona was the team to land Thompson. For starters, they’ve invested three picks in safeties in the past three years; all of whom are still on the roster. With Budda Baker and D.J. Swearinger seemingly guaranteed starting jobs, that leaves Thompson, Rudy Ford, and fellow rookie Deionte Thompson to fill depth spots.

Seeing as how Arizona spent a 2020 pick for Thompson’s services, he’s all but guaranteed a roster spot. Between the depth guys, Ford brings the imposing, downhill presence, which differs from the two rookies. Deionte Thompson is more of your hybrid whereas Jalen Thompson is your coverage specialist.

It’s not inconceivable to think the Cardinals keep five safeties on their active roster. Especially because Jalen Thompson brings flexibility to man the slot. While the volume in snaps won’t be there from the getgo, Thompson should still see meaningful reps throughout the season, mainly in passing situations as a safety/corner hybrid.

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