Earlier this month, Aaron Wilson of Houston-based KPRC reported that the Kansas City Chiefs will be hosting edge-rusher BJ Thompson from Stephen F. Austin on a Top-30 visit.
Stephen F. Austin edge rusher BJ Thompson @SFA_Football has top-30 visits with #Chiefs #Lions per source. An England, Arkansas native, Thompson (6-5, 240, 4.4 speed, 40-inch vertical, 11-3 broad jump) expected to dominate drills at March 21 Pro Day @ShrineBowl @EricGalko @KPRC2— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) March 10, 2023
What is a top-30 visit?
Though the term implies that the visits are for the most coveted draft prospects, NFL teams are simply allowed a total of 30 in-person visits to facilities.
The Chiefs have often preferred to use visits for prospects likely to be available on Day 3 or as undrafted free agents — whom they have more control over selecting than the draft’s top players. Cornerbacks Joshua Williams and Jaylen Watson — who helped the Chiefs win a Super Bowl as rookies — visited Kansas City on top-30 visits before the 2022 Draft.
Let’s find out why the Chiefs might be interested in Thompson.
Thompson originally enrolled at Baylor as a three-star recruit in 2017 — bypassing offers from Texas and Florida State. In 12 games across two seasons in Waco, Thompson totaled six sacks. He also blocked a punt and and extra-point attempt in the same game against TCU in 2018.
The England, Arkansas, product spent the past three seasons at Championship Subdivision-level Stephen F. Austin, racking up 20 total sacks for the Lumberjacks.
Though he was not invited to the Combine, Thompson was one of the stars of the 2023 East-West Shrine Bowl, beginning by showing the traits that once made him a coveted recruit during the week’s practice. The 6’6” pass rusher also alleviated concerns about his playing weight by entering the week at 238 lbs.
Thompson delivered on his potential during the game with 1.5 sacks. Because he did not attend the combine, the next opportunity for teams to vet Thompson will be at SFA’s pro day on Tuesday, March 21.
Beyond the normal small-school questions about the level of competition, Thompson’s age is a concern. He will be a 24-year-old rookie when the season begins.
How he fits with the Chiefs
After the release of Frank Clark, George Karlaftis and Mike Danna are the only edge rushers who contributed for the 2022 Chiefs remaining under contract. Even after signing Charles Omenihu in free agency, Kansas City will need to add bodies to the room in the draft.
The Chiefs have shown little interest in lighter, speedier pass rushers such as Thompson during defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s tenure. Now that Kansas City has a young cornerstone piece at defensive end in Karlaftis, general manager Brett Veach may transition to finding players to complement him, rather than seeking similar skillsets to continually rotate the aging players Kansas City has relied on the past few seasons.
The Chiefs hosted eventual Detroit Lions sixth-round selection James Houston IV on a top-30 visit last offseason. The 241-pound pass rusher seemed like a curious fit at the time for Kansas City’s defensive scheme. After watching a player they visited with rack up eight sacks as a rookie, perhaps Veach and Spagnuolo — and always-aggressive defensive line coach Joe Cullen — are ready to expand the Chiefs’ threshold for what they desire at the position.
The bottom line
Given the high cost to acquire quality defensive ends — both in dollars and draft capital — the Chiefs will likely continue taking lottery-ticket swings at traits in hopes of finding a diamond in the rough. Having already talked to several edge rushers in the pre-draft process, the Chiefs appear to be gearing up to throw numbers at the position — as they did with defensive backs last year.
Because Thompson has not completed most scouting drills, it is difficult to predict his eventual draft range. Even if he puts on a show at his pro day, concerns about his age and why he transferred from a Big 12 school will remain. He also does not appear to have dominated the lower level of competition to the degree expected of a player with his ceiling.
With seven selections available on Day 3 of this year’s draft, do not be surprised to see the Chiefs bet on tools and select Thompson — or a similarly-skilled pass rusher who may face similar questions.