INDIANAPOLIS —- On Thursday morning, head coach Mike Zimmer talked about figuring out what your players do best and putting them in a situation to thrive. He also mentioned the importance of versatility, like linebackers who can be sub-package defenders and dual-role defensive backs.
Maybe he had Washington linebacker/safety/running back Shaq Thompson on his mind. Maybe he didn’t. But no player at the combine personifies versatility like the Huskies’ Swiss Army knife.
Most teams see him as a linebacker, and Thompson made it clear yesterday that he is not going to be a running back. NFL Network’s Mike Mayock projects him as a safety and some teams probably do, too. Whoever picks Thompson will get to decide what he is, but he prefers to be a linebacker.
“That’s where I feel the most comfortable,” Thompson said yesterday. “I like to be up by the line of scrimmage. I feel like I’m physical enough. I’m not the biggest guy, but I have a lot of heart.”
In 2014, his junior year, he made 81 tackles for the Huskies. He forced two fumbles and picked off a pass. He was a terror on special teams. And he averaged 7.5 yards per carry as a part-time back.
Whatever he is, the Vikings have some interest. He met with Zimmer this week at the combine.
Outside linebacker isn’t a pressing need for the Vikings. They used their first-round pick last year on Anthony Barr. Gerald Hodges and Audie Cole impressed while filling in when Chad Greenway missed four games due to a couple of injuries. They also like 2014 late-round pick Brandon Watts.
But with Greenway possibly on the chopping block due to his age and $7.1 million salary and with Zimmer looking for more defensive playmakers, Thompson could be a first-round fit for the Vikings.
In theory, Thompson could play in Greenway’s old spot in the base defense, and his athleticism and skill set could allow him to be used in sub packages and make plays as a hybrid linebacker/safety.
“Even if a guy is better than me, I’m not going to think he’s better than me,” he said of playing in space. “My confidence is going to be high. I’m going to feel I can guard him. I’ll never be on the field thinking somebody’s better than me even if they are. That’s the mindset you have to have.”
We have a long way to go until the draft, but Thompson is a guy you should probably keep tabs on.