With the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine winding down in Indianapolis, college football’s best and brightest have been put through the paces in an effort to sort out the pecking order at each position. At some positions, the top prospect is clear-cut and easy to identify. At others, not so much.
The safety position falls into that latter group, but after suffering a wrist injury during workouts that required surgery, Alabama’s Deionte Thompson will be unable to stake his claim as the No. 1 safety in the Class of 2019.
The 6’2″, 196-pound Thompson, who had 78 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and two interceptions in 2018, is just the latest in a long line of accomplished Crimson Tide safeties. Both Landon Collins (2015) and Minkah Fitzpatrick (2018) were early draft picks who made an impact as rookies, and Alabama head coach Nick Saban told Charlie Potter of 247 Sports that he believes Thompson has the talent and range to join them.
“Deionte has really good range,” Saban said. “I think it helps a lot when you play middle-of-the-field coverage that’s got a safety that can really break on the ball. Also when you play split safety coverages, those guys’ range back there is critical to overlapping throws. He does a really, really good job of that. It’s kind of what we expect. He is really good at it, and that is a bonus for us.”
Gavino Borquez of Draft Wire concurs, tabbing Thompson as a likely first-round pick. “He flies around the field,” Borquez said, “hunting the football and plays that game “full tilt, full time”. He’s got great speed and acceleration which allows him to cover a great amount of range. Thompson is quick-footed and fluid through the hips. He has no trouble getting out of breaks of flipping his hips to turn and run.”
“Thompson is a feisty tackler that comes out of nowhere to make plays,” he continued. “He shows no fear taking on bigger players and has a real knack for the ball, though he has the tendency to be a bit out of control when coming down at times. Thompson will need to improve on his technique and mental processing, as he can be bite in coverage leaving his zone by tracking the quarterback’s eyes.”
However, there are those who aren’t as impressed with Thompson’s tape. That includes Matty Brown of SB Nation, who feels that Thompson’s range is overrated and his recklessness is understated.
“His range isn’t “crazy” or even sideline to sideline, like some analysts have claimed,” he wrote. “Sure, Saban’s scheme demands that his middle of the field safety plays primarily from hashmark to hashmark, meaning that seam routes will hold them there and limit the range potential. Yet, even with that limiter factored in, Thompson’s range still disappointed from the plaudits he’d received. He wasn’t helped by limited burst or long speed—I’d be shocked if he ran quicker than the 4.5s.”
“His tackling technique needs refinement and is borderline dangerous,” Brown added. “He does not maintain a near-hip relationship when approaching the ball-carrier, resulting in overaggressive pursuit angles. He lunges into tackles, resulting in misses and little wrap. He ducks his head into tackles, resulting in an increased risk in paralysis and missed targets. Better angles, footwork and form is needed.”
Thompson may have his critics, but even after missing the combine the general belief is that Thompson will hear his name called in the second half of Round 1. Luke Easterling of Draft Wire thinks that Thompson would be a good fit for the Seattle Seahawks at No. 21.
“The reign of the “Legion of Boom” has ended, but that doesn’t mean the Seahawks can’t reload and try to build the next version,” Easterling said. “That starts with finding a rangy, athletic and physical playmaker at safety to replace Earl Thomas, and Thompson has all the traits to make it happen.”
“Among the messier units on the Raiders is their defensive backfield,” he said. “Thompson’s draft stock dropped following a subpar showing during the playoffs, but on paper, the latest Crimson Tide defensive back capable of making an impact all over the field provides the Raiders with a new threat.”
Both would be positive IDP landings spots, in that Thompson would fall into substantial playing time from the get-go. And given the ferocity he regularly displayed as a hitter at Alabama, he’s certainly capable of being the sort of force in run support that equates to tackle (and fantasy) production.
But as we’ve seen with his Crimson Tide brethren, situation plays a major role in the IDP value of defensive backs. Collins has been a fantasy stud (when healthy) for most of his career, because he spends so much time in the box and near the line of scrimmage. But while Fitzpatrick was arguably Miami’s best defensive back by the end of his rookie year, he was hit-or-miss at best—mostly because he played away from the line (and even in the slot at corner).
Thompson’s role will probably fall somewhere in-between—he has the versatility to be an interchangeable piece on the back end capable o manning both safety spots. That helps Thompson’s draft value in an era where such versatility is prized, but it doesn’t necessarily do his IDP value any favors.
It’s possible that Thompson will land in a favorable enough spot to make him worth a late upside pick—that his potential will be worth the gamble. But the deck’s rather stacked against him being the top-scoring fantasy defensive back from the Class of 2019—be it next season or farther down the road.