With the 166th pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Kansas City Chiefs selected Stephen F. Austin defensive end BJ Thompson.
What player are they getting with Thompson? Let's break down the film:
Closing speed around the corner
It's difficult to parse through BJ Thompson's snaps because his bodytype is different now and the level of competition, but something that will stand out is how well he gets out of his stance (4-pt especially) and his striding to flatten— Nate Christensen (@natech32) May 2, 2023
Not ultra bendy but strides to flatten pic.twitter.com/yTYY9LTlHY
I wouldn't say Thompson has elite bend necessarily -- or at the very least, he doesn't know/do a lot to reduce his surface area a lot as a rusher— Nate Christensen (@natech32) May 2, 2023
Still, his first-step is crazy fast, and he can striden around a tackle with a rip to flatten quickly. There is potential pic.twitter.com/92koAm41I8
As a prospect, Thompson was praised for his bend, but Thompson doesn't flash a ton of bend in college. It's not to say he can't bend — we'll get to his agility later, but I think some of it is a play strength issue.
Being 6'5" and 220 lbs. means that tackles have a large hitting radius to wash you up the arc, so Thompson couldn't win around the corner in a traditional way. His pads are too high at times, but it's hard for him to bend through contact since he lacks the functional strength to maintain his rush path.
Still, Thompson was able to access the corner in college. Instead of winning around shorter angles, Thompson used his elite first step to quickly get on top of tackles, then used his long strides to wrap around the corner. Thompson has the speed to recover from longer angles and chase down, which means he doesn't need to win on a shorter surface area.
At the Shrine Bowl, I felt Thompson's agility flashed more in a traditional bend sense. He doesn't win through contact necessarily but he's entirely comfortable playing half-man and winning with lateral movement. Terrific ankle flexion and his balance/closing speed is ridiculous pic.twitter.com/HKLzAQEcHE— Nate Christensen (@natech32) May 3, 2023
The encouraging aspect of Thompson's game is that his lateral agility is terrific. At the East-West Shrine Bowl, Thompson flashed more ability to win around a shorter corner. Thompson's first step — even at a heavier weight — is ludicrously quick. He's also entirely comfortable moving laterally, allowing him to get his hips around the corner more easily.
Thompson has terrific balance in his ankles — being able to bend on the inside of his foot well and maintain balance. His bend through contact is still a concern, but it was much better in that setting.
Accessing length to get around the corner
Not the best rep to represent but one thing Thompson will want to access in the NFL is his push-pull game. Let him use his length to get extension, then beat a leaning T with a pull/rip move— Nate Christensen (@natech32) May 2, 2023
Will need to add strength to get T worried about the bullrush but foundation is there pic.twitter.com/CeZgUyWyGS
Thompson's pass rush plan was almost nonexistent in college, but I did see flashes of him understanding how to utilize his length as a pass rusher. Thompson lacked the play strength and size to rush with power, but he did comprehend how to use his length around the corner. On this rep, Thompson flashes his hands on a two-hand bullrush, then, when the tackle starts to lean, he pulls his arms through and flattens the corner with a falling tackle.
Thompson will need to add more power to make tackles concerned about his bullrush, but it's encouraging to see a foundation of Thompson understanding his length advantage and utilizing that in his pass rush plan.
To succeed in the NFL, he'll have to maximize that area of his game.
Late pass rush wins with agility
Not the best rep ever, the spin doesn't hit, but one thing noticeable with Thompson is that late COD/cross-face to attack tackles with either shoulder. After spinning inside, Thompson pulls outside again. That's a lot of ground for tackles to cover, and Thompson can pressure pic.twitter.com/ewdE2DLHeN— Nate Christensen (@natech32) May 3, 2023
This rep isn't necessarily a win, but I wanted to point out Thompson does do a nice job winning late on pass rush reps. His pass rush plan isn't well-defined, but he does have reps on the film of him winning late into the rep. Thompson can't convert speed-to-power well, but he does use his agility well to attack either shoulder. He's quicker than most tackles, so he can quickly change directions and get tackles to stumble trying to recover.
Potential as a run defender
Thompson had to play more as a penetrator as a run defender in college since he is such a lighter prospect but with more density, the hope is he can profile as a long run defender who can keep his chest clean.— Nate Christensen (@natech32) May 3, 2023
Still a LONG way to go in terms of play strength but trending up pic.twitter.com/3D5ZsDHicX
In college, Thompson wasn't asked to set the edge like a traditional defensive end. Stephen F. Austin had him in a penetrator role, using his quickness to get upfield and speed to close. Thompson lacked the play strength and pad level to set the edge, so the coaching staff just allowed him to be an athlete and wreak havoc.
That won't work at the NFL level, so Thompson will have to increase his play strength and lower his pads to be a better run defender. Luckily, there were signs of that improving at the Shrine Bowl. Thompson flashed the ability to use his length as a run defender, keeping his chest clean and stunning blocks. His improved strength also helped him from getting moved all the time, and he did a better job of keeping his pad level low.
There's a long way for Thompson to go to ever becoming a capable run defender, but seeing the signs of it through the predraft process is encouraging.
The bottom line
I'll be honest; I didn't see a draftable defensive end when I watched Thompson's college film.
He was too skinny to rush with any power, limiting his ability to rush the passer. Thompson's pad level was also way too high to maximize his bend, and he didn't have any type of developed pass-rush plan. As a run defender, Thompson was too slender to hold up at the NFL level.
That being said, his performance at the Shrine Bowl encouraged me. Thompson was able to add play strength and weight to play against better competition, and he played well in that setting. His pad level was better, he was utilizing his length and he flashed more bend than he did at Stephen F. Austin. Based on that film, there are tools to work with.
The best part about the Thompson pick is that it resets the contract and developmental window the Chiefs had with defensive end Joshua Kaindoh. Kaindoh hasn't worked out, so the Chiefs take another swing with Thompson. I still think he needs 20 more lbs. and at least one to two years of development before he can get on an NFL field, but for a fifth-round pick, that's perfectly fine.