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.
It's Thompszn people. Here was our KC Draft Guide write-up of Darwin Thompson. pic.twitter.com/SxDN1ga6hv— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) August 12, 2019
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...
If you listened to the draft pod or read some of our articles about Darwin Thompson, we wanted to see if the contact balance would translate. It absolutely did. Elevated competition and we're still seeing this. #Thompszn pic.twitter.com/e7Jp1bblGl— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) August 12, 2019
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.
One thing I appreciate about Thompson is even though he's not a big guy, he's still north-south minded when he needs to be. Cut up field, stuck his nose in there and took what was there (not much). Wasn't trying to bounce everything. pic.twitter.com/XWPigAl5Rw— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) August 12, 2019
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.
There still remains some vision questions with Thompson, but he also made some good decision on a couple cutbacks as well. The hurdle is reminiscent of his game against BYU (even though he didn't hurdle anyone here). pic.twitter.com/lo3PFXxpZf— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) August 12, 2019
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.
This was one of three defenders that Darwin Thompson hurdled against BYU. pic.twitter.com/rvUc01jvGn— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) May 3, 2019
Thompson also showed his ability in the passing game, ending his night with a touchdown catch on an angle route.
The focus on the catch was impressive by Thompson here. Nickerson got a hand in his face. Decent angle route, great focus, great finish for a touchdown to cap off his day. #Thompszn pic.twitter.com/CvGRGKTuV2— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) August 12, 2019
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.
The cut block by Thompson was fun, but I don't think he's going to be relied on in pass protection. Outside of a couple chips (one of them didn't end well for him) this was the extent of his pass pro work. Having to take on blitzers is likely not going to be asked much of him. pic.twitter.com/BWgqG4pe6k— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) August 12, 2019
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.