Around this time last year, Kansas City Chiefs fans were introduced to rookie running back Darwin Thompson when he took a short pass 29 yards for a touchdown in preseason Week 1. That exciting play fueled a high expectation for what the sixth-round pick could do in his rookie season.
The campaign finished with Thompson only scoring one touchdown and averaging a measly 3.5 yards per carry. On Wednesday, he shared the struggles of his rookie season with reporters.
“Last year, I was timid to the league itself,” Thompson admitted. “I really didn’t play my game or play Darwin Thompson’s play. I didn’t play up to my par so this year I’m coming back and perfecting my craft, working.”
He made it clear that his first NFL season is now behind him, and he’s confident that the results will be different this year.
“If they’re asleep, I need to wake them up,” Thompson declared. “My job is just to do my job, I know what kind of player I am.”
In fact, he’s so confident that he’s advising fantasy football players to pick him. He may even be drafting himself for this season.
“I don’t too much pay attention to fantasy,” Thompson stated. “I heard about it, a lot of people say I’m a sleeper, but I really don’t know too much about fantasy. I might play it this year though. I told a lot of people who drafted me last year to cut me early. This year, go ahead and draft me.”
No matter how much belief Thompson has in himself, there are three or four other running backs on the roster that threaten to take opportunities away from him. It’s natural for a young player to get overly competitive with such a position battle.
Instead, Thompson expressed his enjoyment of watching the Chiefs select running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the first round.
“It’s a cool competition, cause at one point, we were all doubted in our careers. We kind of share that same story. I’m glad to see a 5-8 running back get drafted in the first round.”
Thompson could argue that he has a leg up on the rookie, especially after running backs coach Deland McCullough used every opportunity he had in 2019 to praise him. However, Thompson won’t be looking at it like that. He prefers an even playing field.
“I like to keep the battlefields equal,” Thompson announced. “So if me and Clyde [Edwards-Helaire] are both on the battlefield, I want him to have a pistol and I’m going to have a pistol, and we’re going to let the best man win. I’m not into holding secrets or how I got better last year as a rookie. I try to help them as much as I can.”
One advantage that Thompson will have over Edwards-Helaire is the understanding of how to train for an NFL season. Before his rookie season, the pressures of excelling at the NFL combine prevented Thompson from working on his on-field play.
“I didn’t get to work on my jump cuts, I wasn’t confident in my ankles and my knees cause all I was doing was running a 40 [yard dash], training for the combine,” Thompson revealed. “But this offseason, I was able to focus on catching the ball, running downfield routes, cutting off my left ankle, cutting off my inside foot, just unorthodox movements is what I’ve been working on.”
Prior to training camp, Thompson went back to his hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, to train with his father instead of training somewhere in Arizona, where he felt like he was “being pampered a little too much.”
One aspect of Thompson’s play that could be improved is pass protection. He’s never been worried about taking on a bigger player and being able to handle it physically — but mentally, he feels he’s taken strides.
“So it wasn’t too much of actually picking up the blitz, it was seeing and recognizing where the blitz is coming from,” Thompson explained. “We got some of the best safeties in the game, Tyrann Mathieu can disguise it real well. So me seeing it here in practice, once we hit game time, I’ll be able to see it.”
Seeing it is obviously important — but at 5 feet 8, that’s not always easy.
“Last year, I feel like I couldn’t even see above the line of scrimmage. The [offensive] linemen were so big that I couldn’t see linebackers and stuff like that. The game felt so fast, but now I’m in the film room, and I see it. I see it every day, I watch film every day, so when I get on the field, my eyes go there now. I can expect who’s gonna come.”
If you couldn’t already tell, there is no shortage of self-confidence from Thompson. It sounds like he’s been inspired from some of his teammates.
“I come out with the attitude that I’m the king of the jungle,” Thompson shared. “You got to build that alter ego once you hit the field. You hear the Landlord, the Honey Badger, [defensive end] Frank Clark the Shark, you got to build that attitude.”
Even with all the self-confidence, he understands the realistic role he would play. He used a perfect analogy to sum up how he wants to impact a team with so many established stars and a Super Bowl title to defend.
“I got the Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes and guys like that to build that extra confidence. I’m just trying to be the cherry on top of that sundae.”