Many NFL draft experts felt like the Carolina Panthers reached when the team selected linebacker Shaq Thompson out of Washington with the No. 25 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. After all, the Panthers already had Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis entrenched as two of their three starting linebackers, and many felt the team could've filled a perceived hole elsewhere rather than strengthen a strength.
In his first season with the Panthers, Thompson struggled with injuries and only recorded 32 total tackles and two passes defensed in 14 games. Obviously, growing pains were expected, but defensive coordinator Sean McDermott likely would've rather had more production out of such a talented prospect.
Entering 2016 training camp, the Panthers needed a big showing from Thompson as the defense tries to adjust to a number of changes in the secondary. Through the first four practices, Thompson has delivered in a big way.
On Saturday, Thompson made the play of the day after he tipped a ball from Cam Newton, that was intended for tight end Greg Olsen, up in the air and came down with the acrobatic interception. It was a true display of athleticism from the second-year pro and head coach Ron Rivera was asked about his linebacker after practice.
"Shaq’s really come a long way. We saw that as the season ended last year," Rivera said. "You saw him start stepping up and making plays. He’s picked up where he left off, which is great. His recall of what we’re doing on the defensive side is outstanding. And the way he’s been practicing has been good."
Thompson made yet another play on Sunday that had spectators talking.
What a pick by Shaq Thompson. Wow. One hands a Newton pass intended for Bersin by jumping it. First play of team period #PanthersTC— Jonathan Jones (@jjones9) July 31, 2016
It's obviously still early in training camp, but if Thompson can continue to grow over the next month of the season, the Panthers' defense will be in much better position to absorb the losses of Josh Norman, Roman Harper and Charles Tillman.