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Against the Bengals, Darwin Thompson showed traits to contribute early

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The rookie running back turned a lot of heads with his performance on Saturday

NFL: AUG 10 Preseason - Bengals at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Darwin Thompson made a great first impression on Kansas City Chiefs fans with his performance in the 38-17 preseason win over the Cincinnati Bengals Saturday night at Arrowhead. He was one of the players Craig, Matt and I have been looking forward to seeing in live action.

We weren’t strangers to Thompson before he was selected by the Chiefs. In fact, we liked him a little higher than where he was drafted.

On Saturday, we saw a lot of the same things that showed up in his college game. That’s a positive indicator for success at this level. Thompson came from the WAC and played against lower levels of competition. One thing we wanted to see is if the contact balance translated to the NFL. Well...

Thompson has a low center of gravity — and in college, showed an ability to reduce surface area for contact. A step up in talent around him didn’t diminish those traits; they look just like they always have.

Here, Thompson runs through first contact on his way to delivering a blow on his eventual tackler. You see how difficult it is to bring him down.

That low center of gravity (and strength) for a man of his stature will prove to be a challenge in the NFL — just as it was in previous stops.

Thompson has some ability in space that is littered throughout his college tape, but he’s far from a finesse player. The contact balance is bred from a lifetime running between the tackles. In a limited sample size, he still showed a willingness to get upfield.

Most of his touches probably aren’t going to be running inside, but I like that he’s still willing (and able) to get what is there even in the face of contact; the second of the two runs above converted a third-and-2. He’s not a smaller back that’s just going to try and bounce everything outside; he’ll get what is blocked and isn’t about to dance when it isn’t.

One thing about Thompson’s college tape is his that his vision was sometimes suspect. At Utah State, he left some yards on the field with some bad reads and poor decision-making. There were a few spots where that showed up on Saturday — but he also made some good decisions, too.

I like his vision on this play to see the cutback. After seeing it, he bursts through the hole to run untouched until he attempts an ill-fated hurdle.

I think he was anticipating a tackle at the ankles (I guess?) but was instead met on the way down. As we get a bigger sample size, we’ll start to figure out the consistency of what he’s seeing — but on this play, I think he made a good choice.

The botched hurdle doesn’t get in the way of a good run, but he’s shown he can do it succesfully. Here’s Thompson converting one in college.

Thompson also showed his ability in the passing game, ending his night with a touchdown catch on an angle route.

This is where we expected Thompson to have some early success — and it was nice to see him make a big play in the passing game.

Thompson does enough to cross Nickerson’s face with a hard step on his outside foot into the angle break off his inside foot. Nickerson gets his hand in Thompson’s face, but the running back focuses through it — catching a ball thrown with a little too much touch — and finishes for six.

In his one season at Utah State, Thompson averaged over 15 yards per reception. Here he gets 29 and a touchdown. If it weren’t for a drop on a screen pass earlier in the game , he might have had even more.

The bottom line

There’s a lot to like about the early returns on Darwin Thompson.

Some have suggested he’s due to be the starting running back at some point this year, but I still think he’s best in a complementary role; he never had more than 185 carries in his college career, and had only had 153 in his one year at Utah State. His opportunities could be limited by his pass protection ability.

This play is cool, but this might be the extent of the ability to hold up in protection. At camp (and in college) he has struggled to hold up against blitzers in pass protection. He’s got to chop them down to get them down. That won’t be sustainable in the NFL.

All that said, there’s a clear opportunity for him to get playing time. He has value in a running back committee and the skillsets he possesses — ability in space, pass catching and burst — should set him up to get playing time this season.

For Thompson, Saturday was a great performance on which to build. He’ll be one to watch this week in Pittsburgh.