"With the 25th pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers select....SHaq Thompson , linebacker , Washington".
Thomas Davis did a great job announcing his replacement last April. Many were adamant that Shaq Thompson was not a 4-3 NFL outside linebacker. Many said that he would be a project prospect and would be a package-specific player. In many ways he is. With Thomas Davis at OLB, and our tendency to play nickel, Shaq spends a fair amount of time on the sideline. Many scouts said he was a better running back prospect than safety or outside linebacker. Receiving many 2nd and even 3rd round grades, the Panthers were scolded for making Thompson a first round selection. But as we watch Shaq, there are many reasons we should be excited about Shaq Thompson's future as a Carolina Panther.
Starting off with the little things. Shaq Thompson is a solid special teamer. He has had some huge hits and big plays stopping kick returners down the field, in turn firing up the defense for the following drive. For a 6-foot, 230 pound player, he can fly down the field with striaght line speed. This minor aspect of Shaq Thompson's game makes him very valuable.
As Thomas Davis grows older, Shaq is going to see more and more time on the field in nickel coverage. Shaq isn't going to stuff stat sheets. He is almost always playing pass coverage on a tight end, because that is his strength and assignment. But as Shaq continues to play, we will see more of what we saw vs Atlanta- a linebacker that can come up to the line of scrimmage and wrap up the ball carrier. His pass coverage is solid, but his tackling is better than I expected.
Lastly, Shaq has a stat that is extremely low, but extremely valuable. He is only 21 years old. He won't turn 22 until after the season is over. Here are the ages of some of our defensive players:
Charles Johnson - 29
Star Lotulelei - 26
Kawann Short - 26
Jared Allen - 33
Kony Ealy - 24
Thomas Davis - 32
Luke Kuechly - 24
Josh Norman - 28
Bene Benwikere - 24
Cortland Finnegan - 31
Kurt Coleman - 27
Roman Harper - 33
As we can see, this Panthers defense isn't young by any means. We have many young developing plays like Bene, Kony, Tre Boston, Dean Marlowe, Ryan Delaire, and of course Shaq Thompson. It is going to be exciting to see how these young players develop over the next few seasons. Given Shaq's potential and young age, we have a lot to look forward to in the future.