NFL underdog camp report: Diminutive Buccaneers WR, ex-USFL Titans DB among sleepers to watch

Buccaneers' WR Deven Thompkins and the Titans' Shakur Brown are among some underdogs to keep an eye out for in training camps.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Undrafted rookie wideout Deven Thompkins’ 5-8 and 155-pound frame surged toward the end zone. That’s when Tampa Bay Buccaneers fill-in starter Blaine Gabbert noticed the pint-sized playmaker getting in front of Tennessee Titans cornerback Caleb Farley, last year’s first-round pick, in 11-on-11 red-zone drills.

Thompkins had created space on a wheel route, and while Farley used his length to close the gap between him and his coverage assignment, Gabbert put the ball where only the rookie receiver could snag it. And that he did, as Thompkins corralled the ball — with Farley lunging towards it — and dove within the end zone for a touchdown.

NFL underdog: Little undrafted wideout Deven Thompkins is making plays

Most fans and pundits have never heard of Thompkins, the tiny but talented receiver from Utah State, who signed with Tampa Bay after he went undrafted in April. Thompkins had a prolific career at Utah State but was overlooked — no pun intended — because of his size.

Thompkins has shown plenty of giddy up in his routes throughout the summer, impressing onlookers with his mix of speed and savvy as he competes to force the Buccaneers to keep six wideouts.

The unit is stacked with Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Julio Jones, and Russell Gage locked in at the top. Jones arrived midway through the summer, pushing Thompkins down the depth chart at the start of training camp.

“When they brought in Julio, I was like, ‘Dang, I’m not the alpha male of my group anymore,'” Thompkins told Pro Football Network, referring to the difference between the college and pros. “It’s very humbling.”

Thompkins is working to outduel Tyler Johnson, Scotty Miller, Jerreth Sterns, Jaelon Darden, Vyncint Smith, Cyril Grayson Jr., and Breshad Perriman for one of two or maybe three spots.

“Being able to stand out amongst them has given me a lot more confidence to actually be like, ‘Maybe my skill set is really that good, enough to be on the roster,'” Thompkins said.

Thompkins caught 171 passes for 2,519 yards and 15 touchdowns during his college career. But his most high-profile catch likely came last week when he picked up a new set of downs on a 16-yard catch off a third-down pass from QB Kyle Trask in the preseason opener against the Miami Dolphins.

Since then, Thompkins has seen his stock rise a bit. With Tom Brady on training camp hiatus, Thompkins mixed in with Gabbert and the first-team offense during joint practices with the Titans this week. Gabbert, typically the team’s backup QB, has developed chemistry with the young wideout.

“Blaine always helps me out,” Thompkins said. “He’s always telling me the spot to be in, or like if I need to get flatter on a certain route.”

The next two preseason games will be critical for Thompkins, 22, who has two young children. He can’t let up at all in training camp practice. After receiving a crash course into the Titans’ defense, he’ll be even more prepared to make the most of his opportunities on Saturday at Nissan Stadium.

Titans cornerback Shakur Brown is a DB to watch

Thompkins wasn’t the only underdog putting in positive reps during Titans and Buccaneers joint practices this week. Titans cornerback Shakur Brown has been earning praise from onlookers in training camp. The USFL alum signed with the Titans around the start of training camp in late July and has since seen his situation progressively improve.

Brown received first-team reps with the defense on Thursday against the Buccaneers. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound nickel cornerback looks the part in team drills and made an impressive breakup on a pass to Bucs wide receiver Kaylon Geiger in 11-on-11 red-zone drills. He’s working on a year-long audition for another shot on a regular-season roster, and his work with the Pittsburgh Maulers in the spring earned him the dress rehearsal in the preseason and training camp.

The Titans have solid depth at cornerback, but Brown is definitely in the mix for a 53-man roster gig. Like with Thompkins, the next two exhibition matchups will make or break Brown’s chance to remain in Nashville.

Other underdog notes from TB vs. TEN

  • Bucs wide receiver Vyncint Smith made a handful of impressive grabs against the Titans, including a fade catch for a TD in red-zone 11-on-11 drills on Thursday. Smith is in an awkward spot because he offers a similar red-zone upside to Jones and Evans, and both of those players are considered to be a lot more talented (obviously). That said, Smith could get looks elsewhere if he can ride this week’s momentum for the rest of the preseason. Smith has played in the league for four years, splitting that time with the Houston Texans and New York Jets.
  • On the opposite side, Titans undrafted rookie wide receiver Reggie Roberson Jr. stood out in individual and team drills on Wednesday against Buccaneers defenders. The SMU product is in a worthwhile standing on the wideout depth chart and is clearly a bubble player. He’s competing with Cody Hollister — another joint-practice standout — and Mason Kinsey for a deep depth spot.
  • Titans undrafted rookie DT Sam Okuayinonu, a Maryland alum, had a really nice set of reps in DL vs. OL individual drills on Thursday. He absolutely mauled Bucs guard Brandon Walton on a pass-rush rep in the second joint session.
  • Titans pass rusher Rashad Weaver made Bucs offensive lineman Fred Johnson look silly on the final rep of OL vs. DL drills on Thursday. Weaver immediately crossed Johnson’s face for an easy win, and both sides jawed about it afterward. To be fair to Johnson, he stonewalled Titans EDGE David Anenih in an early OL vs. DL rep.
  • DE Carl Nassib, who signed with the Bucs before joint practices this week, made an impressive stop on a QB keeper by Titans rookie Malik Willis in 11-on-11 red-zone drills.
  • Buccaneers safety Chris Cooper and defensive lineman Mike Greene produced “sacks” on Willis on back-to-back plays to end practice on Thursday.

Mike Kaye is the Lead NFL Reporter for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter: @mike_e_kaye.

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