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2016 NFL Draft: Potential Panther? Darian Thompson

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The best safety prospect at the Senior Bowl is Boise State’s Darian Thompson. If the Panthers consider taking a safety high in the draft, Thompson will likely be on a very short list. NFL.com's Chad Reuter just released a four-round mock draft, with Thompson being the Panthers' first round pick.

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Boise State S Darian Thompson

I did not watch Boise State at all during 2015 season, and knew little about Thompson other than the media seem high on him. In fact, when I wrote my "Analyzing the 2016 NFL Draft Safety Class" back in week eight, I only ranked Thompson eleventh (four players ahead of him returned to school, and one I am moving into my corner rankings).

In 2014, Thompson snagged seven interceptions while pounding out 71 tackles and five TFL, prompting ESPN's Mel Kiper to rank Thompson as the fifth-best senior safety prospect in the country over the summer. During the season, Draft Insider's Tony Pauline wrote that Thompson is "a top 60 prospect, that "could move into the initial 40 picks if he participates at the Senior Bowl."

Interestingly, SI's Chris Burke overheard an NFL scout say that Thompson has been the best defensive back so far at the Senior Bowl.  Keep in mind, most of the top safety prospects are underclassman, and not eligible for the event.

At this point, Thompson is not in either Daniel Jeremiah (NFL Network) or Dane Brugler (CBS Sports) top-50 list, but was 42 in Matt Miller's (Bleacher Report) post-Senior Bowl Big Board.

Thompson measured just over six-foot-one and 215 pounds at the Senior Bowl.

Draft analyst for The Sporting News and Optimum Scouting, Eric Galko summarized Thompson's Senior Bowl performance.

"Darian Thompson has been one of the more impressive prospects this whole week as he put together another complete practice checking all the boxes. He continuously makes plays on the ball most notably in seven on seven drills closing in on the ball and not losing balance to any counter move of the receiver."

NFL.com's Bucky Brooks gave him enforcement, stating Thompson "earned high marks from coaches for his high football IQ and communication skills. In addition, he has shown solid skills in coverage and flashed a knack for getting his hands on the ball".

Miller wrote "The best safety here, bar none...an impressive ball hawk capable of matching up against slot receivers or playing center field in a single-high-safety look".

Not everyone is impressed with Thompson. In his profile, on NFL.com, draft analyst Lance Zierlein wrote:

"Looks the part and has enough production to warrant a close look, but that close look shows a player with below average man cover skills and a lack of awareness in zone coverage. An even greater concern is that too many big plays were allowed because he busted coverage or failed or to execute. Thompson does his best work near the line of scrimmage and has the frame and demeanor to become a box safety in the league, but it might take time."

Missed the final two regular season games with a concussion.

Year Team Games Int Tackles TFL
2012 Boise St 13 3 43 0.0
2013 Boise St 13 4 63 1.5
2014 Boise St 13 7 71 5.0
2015 Boise St 11 5 65 8.5
Career Boise St 50 19 242 15.0

Unlike Duke's Jeremy Cash, who really is an undersized linebacker, Thompson is a playmaker on the back end. He is an aggressive defender who looks for the picks. After picking off seven passes in 2014, he added five more in just 11 games this season, totaling 19 for his career (tied for the most of any player in the country).

Thompson reads run plays and screen plays quickly and generally takes controlled, proper angles downhill. While he can play in the box, what makes Thompson potentially special is his work in coverage. He combines prototypical size with instincts and athleticism. When looking at his film, you see turnovers and big hits, but there are also some blown coverages.  Thompson sometimes struggled with the concept of stay deeper than the deepest man.  Per Zierlein, Thompson surrendered ten touchdowns over the past three seasons.

ProFootball Focus' performance-based scouting notes "College QBs had an NFL passer rating of just 62.2 when throwing at him, and some of those very coverage skills have been on display her in Mobile." According to PFF, Thompson lined up in the slot on 32% of his snaps last season.

Thompson is a battle-tested, 43-game starter for the Broncos, who received All-American recognition in each of the past two seasons.  Then gave scouts an encore at the Senior Bowl.

NFL.com's Chad Reuter just released a four-round mock draft, with Thompson being selected by the Panthers with pick number 31.

First round seems a tad rich for me. What may ultimately decided if Thompson becomes selected on day one (first round) or day two (second/third rounds) is how he performs at the NFL Combine, where teams will test his change-of-direction skills, long-speed, and flexibility.

Able to play over the slot, in the deep middle and as an underneath defender, Thompson isn’t an eye-popping athlete, like Jayron Kearse, but appears to be a better football player. Most will consider him an "interchangeable safety", which means that he combines the traits necessary to play both free and strong safety. That is what NFL teams are looking for, as offenses will try to make you do what you can't do.  After finally watching his film (via Draftbreakdown.com, and the You Tube channel One Hour Football) I believe he compares favorably to recent first founder Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix.