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Chiefs Lottery Tickets: wide receiver Cody Thompson

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Thompson’s route running and raw skills could see him break into the Chiefs’ WR room.

Western Michigan v Toledo Photo by Andrew Weber/Getty Images

Lottery Tickets is a breakdown series of the lesser known players who have a chance to make the Chiefs Week 1 roster. Leading up to training camp, we’ll be profiling the intriguing undrafted free agents and reserve/future contract players that show the ability to potentially stick in the NFL.

Why is this series called Lottery Tickets? The players we discuss are high-upside players that haven’t significantly affected the Chiefs bottom line, but the returns could be substantial.


The Kansas City Chiefs made a big splash in the undrafted free agent market by signing Jamal Custis and then bringing in Cody Thompson. The Chiefs, whether it be uncertainty over the Tyreek Hill situation or simply forward thinking, attacked the wide receiver position both during and after the latest NFL Draft.

While Cody Thompson didn’t receive a massive signing bonus like Custis, his path to the draft looked a little differently.

Going his senior year in 2017, Thompson was one of the higher-regarded non-Power Five wide receiver prospects for the stellar play he put together during the two years prior.

Thompson got off to a good start before breaking his leg and missing the majority of the season. Returning for 2018 had is ups and downs for Thompson, as he looked labored and less quick to start the year. As the year went on, his change-of-direction ability began to return.

Thompson is one of the rare cases that require some digging into the old tape rather than focusing on only his most recent play.

Route running

Thompson’s most impressive trait as a wide receiver is his route-running ability and the capability to create separation from defenders.

Thompson’s fluidity in his hips to completely sell the out route — combined with the nuance to trick the defender that an out route was coming — allows easy vertical separation for a guy who only has modest long speed. The natural change of direction in the hips helps, but Thompson’s releases off the line of scrimmage (LoS) and his footwork as he approaches his break points allow him to set up defenders at all levels.

Even just the basic, bread-and-butter routes by Thompson come across clean and create acceleration thanks to the technical savvy he shows. His hands, feet and hips all work in unison, allowing him to snap off his vertical push into the slant.

There is absolutely a skill in being able to execute double moves, but at the college level, many wide receivers will be able to churn out big plays against a lower level of competition. Being able to generate separation on simple, basic routes is a skill that may translate more readily to the NFL.

Hands

Thompson’s hands were a bit of a tricky evaluation when starting with 2018 tape. He has consistency when catching routine passes, shows strong hands and good tracking ability but showed some major inconsistencies with his ability to reel in difficult passes in his final season.

The good aspect is that even in reduced space, whether in the red zone or over the middle of the field, Thompson is able to open up throwing windows for his quarterback, even if they are outside of his frame. The bad came in too frequently during his last season at Toledo, as multiple passes ricocheted off both of his hands when he was having to leap or fully extend for a ball.

Again, the difference between the previous seasons (note the plurality) and his final season are stark, as Thompson shows the baseline skill set to come down with contested and difficult catches. While not providing a highlight reel full of receptions that make your jaw hit the floor, Thompson shows more than enough prowess to be utilized in all scenarios and not just underneath.

Ball tracking

When you get a player like Thompson, who is an average NFL athlete, he has to win with technique and skills. I’ve been going on and on about the route running and ability to generate separation through change of direction, but those won’t always be an option at the NFL level. There will be plays in which defenders don’t bite on the initial move or play not to get beat deep, and in those scenarios, Thompson still has to still find a way to be effective.

Fortunately, he understands leverage and spacing and how to manipulate it, which allows him to win despite everything above.

The cornerback on this play is in a great position to defend a deep route with his off coverage and inside leverage. The cornerback is going to squeeze anything outside into the sideline while playing over the top.

With Thompson’s lack of elite speed, there is no way he can just run by the cornerback’s leverage. He knows this and instead manipulates the space by pressing inside, forcing the cornerback to overplay into the middle of the field with a leverage step. Thompson has now created more space to work toward the sideline and begins to veer back to the outside after pushing the cornerback off his line.

Thompson perfectly tracks a pass that drifted a little too far inside and catches it in stride.

The bottom line

Thompson is an incredibly fun player to watch and if the buzz coming back from offseason workouts rings true, there is a reason to be excited about him. He has some skills and traits that haven’t been as common around the Chiefs young wide receivers as of late; he is polished as a route runner and has quality size. He isn’t as much of a project as many other receivers on this roster, and that makes him stand out.

There are concerns around him as a player—from inconsistencies as he progressed in college (whether injury related or not) to average athleticism—but those things never held him back even as the competition in college rose.

In training camp, he should be a fun watch, as his efficiency and technical ability is compared to the raw athleticism and talent of some other Chiefs receivers. At the end of the day, Thompson has some traits that could result in him being a quality addition to the Chiefs offensive roster, even in a crowded room.

Like most UDFAs, he will likely be making his way onto the team as a special teams player and earn snaps on the offense. Thankfully for Thompson, he was a core special-teams player at Toledo.

His path to making the roster is evident; he just has to rise above the competition along the way.