thompson

Chris Thompson, Running Back Florida State: NFL Draft Player Evaluation

Chris Thompson NFL Draft 2013 Scouting Report

Chris Thompson is dramatically underrated.

There is an enormously talented player in this year’s draft who no one is talking about: Chris Thompson, the running back from the Florida State Seminoles. When I brought up the clips on DraftBreakdown, I was floored by Chris Thompson’s athleticism and strength as a smaller back. I believe that Thompson has a chance to perform a near-perfect imitation of Darren Sproles, with shades of Chris Johnson and C.J. Spiller. Every year someone has a new flavor-of-the-week “Sproles-lite” running back prospect. A few years ago it was Jacquizz Rodgers, last year it was LaMichael James. Those player are Sproles rip-offs, cheap Chinese made shells of the real thing. Until now, there hasn’t been a player like him in the NFL. Almost every major NFL draft site you visit barely has him ranked, and ESPN doesn’t even have him listed. My only conclusion is that they didn’t even bother to watch him. Chris Thompson will join the ranks of other UDFA’s or day 3 draft picks to have an NFL impact due to sheer scouting laziness.

If you had a choice between the 3 running backs in the table below, which one would you choose?

Player

Height

Weight

40YD

Bench

Vert

Player A

5’7″

192

4.42

21

35

Player B

5’6″

187

4.47

23

33

Player C

5’8″

194

4.45

15

35

If you’re like me, you chose Player A. He has good size relative to the other prospects, he’s a little faster than them, he’s just as strong as Player B, and just as explosive as Player C.

Player B is the aforementioned Godfather of Receiving Running Backs, Darren Sproles. Player C is last year’s popular off-brand, LaMichael James. Player A is a little known Florida State running back Chris Thompson. How could a prospect this electrifying be so unnoticed by the mainstream media and draftniks alike?

In a 2011 game vs Wake Forest, Thompson suffered a compression fracture of his T-5 and T-6 vertebrae. He was never supposed to play football again. With pure hard work and determination, he willed himself over the physical and mental hurdles of such a devastating injury, only to tear his ACL almost exactly a year after breaking his back. As a result of his torn ACL, he was unable to workout fully at the combine, which is why we only have limited workout information to judge his game by. The injuries absolutely murdered his draft stock despite an impressive senior year. I think I’m onto something here, in that Thompson could be the most Sproles-esque running back since Sproles himself came out of college in 2005.

Because of his injuries, Thompson doesn’t have nearly the same production as Sproles or James:

Player

ATTs

Yds

YPC

TDs

RECs

Chris Thompson

277

1735

6.3

14

45

Darren Sproles

815

4979

6.1

45

66

LaMichael James

771

5082

6.6

53

51

His production is seriously lacking, although his YPC is aligned with theirs. However, the scenario changes when we view the production through a per-game basis.

Player

Gs

ATTs/G

Yds/G

TDs/G

Chris Thompson

13

13.69

97.77

0.54

Darren Sproles

40

19.93

120.5

1.1

LaMichael James

37

20.78

136.76

1.43

Thompson had a ton of games between 1 to 8 carries that I discarded because they were seriously dragging down the per game rates. I did the same for Sproles and James, although they had a way smaller amount of games with that little usage. It’s slightly unsettling that the Florida State coaches didn’t use him in the same way Sproles and James were ridden in college. It could be because of the injuries, but in 2010 he was splitting time with future UDFA Jermaine Thomas. The risk is something to consider when drafting him.

On film, the first thing that pops out about Thompson is his speed. When completely healthy, he looks like a high-4.2 to low-4.3 guy on tape. There are plays where multiple defensive players will take perfect angles, and he will outrun them anyways. He frequently had to adjust to poorly through balls on wheel routes because quarterbacks (*cough* E.J Manuel *cough*)couldn’t get the ball to him because of his speed. I think the 4.42 he ran is more reflective of his current speed, not his actual speed. He’s still only 7 months recovered from a torn ACL. He has a Chris Johnson-level of speed, where all it takes is one crease, one miniscule hole, and he’s gone, as evidenced by the screenshot below.

Chris Thompson runs for a touchdown vs Wake Forest. Credit Draftbreakdown.
Chris Thompson runs for a touchdown vs Wake Forest. Credit Draftbreakdown.

Although he’s a smaller back at 5’7” 192 pounds, the former Seminole runs with good power. He’s not going to be a between-the-tackles grinder in the NFL, but he can get it done if used correctly. Take this play vs Clemson for example:

Florida State comes out in a 10 personnel set with Thompson to E.J. Manuel’s right.

He’s contacted by 2 Clemson defenders in the hole, but keeps his pads square to line and powers through.

He shrugs off a 2nd attempted tackle at the 2nd level.

And finally, he lowers his shoulder and destroys a safety before waltzing into the endzone.

You can see the play in question below (it begins at the 3:34 mark). It ended up being called back because of a penalty, but that kind of power and determination doesn’t occur very often in such a small package. So many of these other smaller back prospects suffer from an inability to power through contact from larger defenders, or keep moving through ankle tackles. Thompson does these things better than any of the smaller backs in this class, including Jonathan Franklin and Giovani Bernard.

Chris Thompson vs Clemson (Courtesy of DraftBreakdown)

In addition to his track-star speed, Thompson possesses next-level agility and quickness. He can make cuts at speed, and has incredible acceleration. He reminds me of C.J. Spiller in the way that he stops and starts with bodies around him. As a receiver, he has soft hands, although I’ve seen him let the ball get to his body a few times. I haven’t seen enough pass protection snaps to make a firm judgment in that area of his game, although my initial impression is that it needs work.

Thompson’s balance is good, not on the level of someone like Andre Ellington, but at this point we’re nitpicking. As most running backs with track-star speed, he’ll try to reverse the field in situations where he knows he can’t get to the edge. More often than not he’ll end up tackled behind the line of scrimmage. This isn’t something I saw him do a lot at Florida State, but it’ll need to be cleaned up in the NFL.

Most of what I’m projecting rests on one unpredictable variable: Thompson’s left knee. It is incredibly promising that 7 months after a torn ACL, he’s already running in the mid 4.4′s at Florida State’s Pro Day. We’re talking about a player who overcame 2 broken vertebrae to return to the football field and perform at an exceptionally high level. That alone tells me Thompson has the work ethic and mental fortitude to overcome the physical and mental hurdles of a 2nd serious injury to his body. I could see him adding 10 to 15 pounds to his frame and becoming the best small running back in this class.

NFL Draft Outlook: Thompson has a 7th round-UDFA grade from Walter Football, behind guys like Onterio McCalebb and Montel Harris. Some NFL team is going to get an absolute bargain with Chris Thompson. If I were a GM, I would be absolutely enamored with the talent of Chris Thompson. I’d let all the other teams take guys with limited upside, while I stood stealthily by and nabbed Thompson with a 7th round pick. I’d take him over guys like Andre Ellington, Kenjon Barner, Kerwynn Williams, Jawan Jamison, Montee Ball, Joseph Randle, Stepfan Taylor, Mike Gilleslee, and Knile Davis. Even as an UDFA, if Chris Thompson get’s a shot at handling 20 carries a game, Chris Thompson will become a name know in the households across the States.

Fantasy Football Outlook: If you’re reading this, you should feel very lucky; it’s likely most people in your league have no idea he exists. Chris Thompson will be available in the 3rd, 4th, or even 5th round of your rookie drafts, and you may not have to draft him at all. He’s a player with shades of Darren Sproles, Chris Johnson, and C.J. Spiller, and you won’t have to spend outrageously to get him. Since he won’t be drafted highly, you’ll need to have patience. Once he gets on the field and shows off his speed, agility, and power, it’ll be hard for a coach to keep him off. I think there is definite risk, in that we have what I perceive to be a Ferrari here, and Florida State coaches kept it in the garage for a good part of its career. In reality though, almost all risk is removed as you won’t have to spend anything useful to get him. The 4th round is where you would’ve selected guys like Tauren Poole and Terrance Ganaway last year. Chris Thompson has far more upside than any other prospect you can get that late. There is a chance that the best small back in this class will be an undrafted free agent.

Chris Thompson Versus Wake Forest (Courtesy Of DraftBreakdown)

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