The NFL, it seems, will have the same conundrum Washington had with Shaq Thompson: What is his best position?
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound junior from Sacramento did it all for the Huskies this season. He was a standout weak-side linebacker, a part-time running back, a sometimes safety and an all-the-time special-teams demon. He was a first-team AP All-American as an all-purpose player, and he was UW’s first recipient of the Paul Hornung Award, presented to the nation’s most versatile player.
Now he’s off to the NFL, with many projecting him as a first-round pick entering April’s draft.
Projecting his position in the NFL is a little trickier.
“His versatility is pretty spectacular with everything he can do,” one scout said. “When he played running back for them, it seemed like he’d been playing there the whole time. He’s a good athlete, very instinctive and tough. But, for me, he’s tough to (evaluate) because he is that ‘tweener — he’s not the ideal size for a linebacker or a safety. He’s probably more of a natural linebacker, but he needs to develop his hand use and shielding blocks better. That’s going to be a challenge for him (in the NFL).”
Another scout described Thompson as a “freak athlete,” but said it’s difficult to grade him as a sure-fire first-rounder based on his uncertain position. Many NFL teams have specific requirements and measurements for positions — a WILL linebacker might have to be 6-3, 240 — and Thompson doesn’t fit neatly into some of those boxes. “But if you’re willing to broaden your horizons, you’re going to find a lot of talent there,” the scout said.
One of the scouts said Thompson could even be a viable option at running back in the NFL.
Thompson finished the 2014 season with 81 tackles, one interception, three forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and four defensive touchdowns — the most by a defensive player in college football over the past decade, according to ESPN research. When injuries decimated UW’s backfield depth, Thompson was used as UW’s featured running back for three games, averaging 124 yards on those. His average of 7.5 yards on his 61 carries was the best in the Pac-12 this season.
Quick hits from the scouts on UW’s three other top NFL prospects:
On senior All-American nose tackle Danny Shelton: “He’s a massive dude. And he’s not just a square, can’t-move dude. He can run and he’s physical and he can move. It’s mind-blowing how easy it looks for him. He was just toying with people at times.”
“He went from, ‘Oh, we should probably take a look at this guy’ in the summer to a first-round lock now.”
On senior All-American defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha: “He’s an interesting case. The sack numbers obviously jump out at you. But in terms of NFL traits, he’s just not the biggest guy, he’s not the most athletic guy, he’s not the fastest guy. But he is strong, tough, instinctive and does play extremely hard. … I think he might slide (in the draft), but he’ll have a chance to stick around (in the league) as long as he stays healthy.”
On junior cornerback Marcus Peters, dismissed from UW in November: “A huge red flag. He’s a talented kid, no doubt. And it only takes one team (to fall in love with a player). From all the stuff that he’s been involved in and the chances he’s gotten and the immaturity he’s shown, it’s going to be tough for him. … They’re all professionals up here and they won’t put up with that BS. Hanging out with Marshawn (Lynch), that was probably the worst thing for him.”