As the moment, this doesn’t seem to be a reactionary move of any sort — Thompson looks to simply be an addition to a safety room that lost some bodies from last season.
Thompson was a fourth-round draft pick in 2017 out of Colorado and was a lot of well-respected draft analysts’ top free safety that year. Considered a very instinctive, rangy deep safety, Thompson didn’t get his chance to play until Earl Thomas got hurt early in the 2018 season.
Thompson started the rest of the year for Seattle in that coveted centerfielder role, doing enough to keep his job heading into 2019. A backslide in performance paired with a shoulder labrum injury forced Thompson to injured reserve, and he was eventually released from the team when the Seahawks couldn’t find any trade partners before the 2020 NFL Draft.
The Chiefs decided to bring Thompson in right after they started phase one of training camp, so the timing is a bit interesting. In theory, Thompson provides much-needed depth with Jordan Lucas off to Chicago. Lucas was the Chiefs’ 2019 deep safety behind Juan Thornhill, who is coming off of injury.
As it stands, the Chiefs reserve safeties are Daniel Sorensen, Armani Watts, and undrafted rookie free agent Rodney Clemons. Neither Sorensen or Watts have shown the range or ability to excel as a deep centerfield safety, and while that was Clemons role in college, he is a rookie, after all.
Could Thompson be the guy that comes in as the second-string deep safety in case of injury? Let’s take our trip down to the basement at Arrowhead Pride headquarters.
S Tedric Thompson
6’ | 204 lbs
While the safety position isn’t the most predicated on having top-end athleticism, there is some level of minimum requirement, and part of the reason I want to start here is that Thompson flirts with that line. The size profile is fine, but the speed, agility and explosive testing at the NFL Combine slated him in a 35th percentile (or worse) athlete at the safety position. Those limitations in speed, burst and change of direction do show up on the field quite often and Thompson really has to rely on his mental processing to overcome his sub-par athleticism.
A little threat on Chiefs newest addition safety, Tedric Thompson— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) July 29, 2020
Considered a rangy, high IQ deep S coming out of college, Thompson was able to flash some of those skills in relief of Earl Thomas for the Seahawks.
Stays over the top & square so he can be in phase on the break pic.twitter.com/odOMclqfDC
Thompson was used predominately as a free safety in both college and the pros, often asked to patrol the deep middle of the field and cover a lot of ground. It’s easy to tell he is comfortable in this position, reading multiple routes and the quarterback at the same time. He doesn’t get caught flat-footed or keying in on the wrong route often, and he shows the mental processing to break off routes when he needs to.
On this play, the wide receiver is pressing him vertically up the seam. Rather than flipping his hips to run, Thompson does a good job staying square and patient. As the wide receiver breaks towards the corner, he is in good position to flip his hips and stay on the back hip of the wide receiver and effect the catch point. His lack of great length and explosive traits are evident, as he can’t get to the ball at its highest point, but his technique and positioning are sound and allow him to disrupt the process of completing the catch.
In the NFL, Thompson has been at his best coming downhill from over the top rather than flashing great SL to SL range.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) July 29, 2020
- Top biggest vertical threat
- Mirrors crossing route + QB's eyes
- Explodes downhill to the catch point
- Helmet across the body, lead with shoulder pic.twitter.com/QA3Nm2Dtdo
Despite his usage consistently being that of a rangy centerfield safety, Thompson shines the most when he’s able to break downhill from that deep position. Again, the mental acuity is there, as he quickly identifies the most dangerous vertical threat and then is able to mirror the quarterback over the top. As soon as the ball is released, he’s in good position to get his feet behind him and drive down on the catch point and ultimately delivers a huge hit, causing a fumble that was negated by a defensive holding penalty.
Thomas makes some very nice plays when breaking downhill, and he delivers big hits. He shows an ability to jump routes. The only issue is that when pressed by a secondary vertical threat or multiple underneath options, he can’t trigger as quickly. That puts him behind — or really on time — for the snap, and the lack of average athletic traits make it difficult for him to take proper angles or arrive at the ball early enough to make the play.
Limited athleticism and questionable judgement get Thompson in trouble frequently playing deep.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) July 29, 2020
- Mis-reads CB's leverage &commits to the corner
- When the WR goes to the post, a ton of ground is lost in transition
- Over-aggressive drive vs Cle
- Lacks fluidity to flip outside pic.twitter.com/oQCLyfiy2T
The fatal flaw of Thompson when playing deep is one of over-aggression without the athleticism to back it up. Double moves eat him up routinely, as he is forced to drive on the first break he sees. With limited burst, Thompson is forced to aggressively drive on the first break he sees when not in perfect position, or he risks giving up a chunk play. The problem is that his change of direction traits are equally as sub-par, and if a wide receiver is running a double move, he gets instant separation that is never made up by Thompson.
Given his athletic profile, you’d like to see Thompson play a bit more cautiously and attack everything top down. He may not have the athleticism to prevent every post pass or break up every deep-crossing route, but he won’t be giving up game-breaking plays at the same rate.
It's easy to see Thompson is a smart player who studies the film and brings it to the field.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) July 29, 2020
- Spins down vs motion
- Flat angle towards SL to maintain depth
- I.D.s wheel route and breaks as ball is released
- Want to see the play finish with a TO but good adjustment & attack pic.twitter.com/Z1Lh95aU5x
This is the other area of Thompson’s game that results in the most highlights — his mental acuity. It’s clear that he studies the game and is prepared for the upcoming opponent, which allows him to play fast.
Being forced to spin down into the box with the motion, Thompson is aware of the wheel route followed by the flare. He does a good job maintaining his depth, and when the final decision has to be made to throw the ball, he is able to break downhill on it. Thompson clearly had an idea that a similar type of play was coming, and situations like this arise every week.
The mental lapses aren't few and far between either and not always about route spacing— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) July 29, 2020
- Good initial depth in split look
- CB passes but hangs high until pulled down
- Super flat angle taken, allows WR behind Thompson
- Mis-times jump/mis-plays ball in air (not the only time) pic.twitter.com/s124MqAAyO
Then it’s back to inconsistency for Thompson, as he also has the propensity to completely misjudge the ball or angles. There was no reason to drive so shallow to the sideline on this play given the depth of the cornerback. Even when Thompson is able to recover, he’s unable to time his jump on the ball properly and gives up the touchdown right over his head. Thompson too often takes questionable angles (like this) for a player who otherwise seems to understand the game at a very high level.
There also isn’t a great place to state this, but Thompson’s ball skills are rather hit-and-miss. He’s very opportunistic — two of his three career interceptions came off of tipped passes and the other on a Hail Mary — but he struggles mightily to locate and high-point a football.
Conversely, if you get Thompson to run the alley by design he can be effective. Limiting the space he's operating in allows him to go 100% and he's willing to lead with his shoulder vs big runners.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) July 29, 2020
This carries into the RZ as well, less space results in an earlier trigger vs run pic.twitter.com/OfptCXXFci
When space is limited and a run fit is designed specifically for Thompson to fill it, he comes downhill with good pace and power behind his pads.
The next big hurdle to tackle is literally tackling. From poor angles to ankle diving attempts there are quite a few missed tackles from a position that can't afford them.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) July 29, 2020
Most happen in space where his athleticism is being challenged but late starts and poor angles don't help pic.twitter.com/xp0jdpRbns
When operating in space, he often has to adjust his angle multiple times in pursuit and defaults to an ankle-diver that misses more tackles than he makes. While there are good things and bad things to Thompson as a run defender, as a primarily deep safety, the inconsistent angles and poor tackling create a massive liability.
The bottom line
Early in the offseason, I was a big proponent of signing Thompson because I was under the impression he could allow more flexibility for Thornhill. When the Chiefs signed Thompson so late in the process, I half-expected bad news about Thornhill’s health to follow. Hopefully, that never comes. After digging deeper through his tape, I’m not sure Thompson a lock to make the final roster, let alone impact starters’ roles or usage.
Thompson’s skillset and limitations are eerily similar to Watts, in that they are limited athletes — especially in terms of speed and change of direction — who thrived in college with great instincts and IQ.
In the NFL, they are finding it more difficult to have the same level of impact. The athletic limitations lead to very few (and less effective) man coverage reps and a lack of tackling consistency keep them out of the box full time.
In the Chiefs’ system that utilizes more split-safety looks, there is hope that Thompson can look a little more like his college self, the playmaking deep safety. The focus here should be on whether he can beat out Watts and Clemons rather than how he can affect the starting lineup at this point in time.