The Buffalo Bills’ defense has been inconsistent throughout the 2015 season as they’ve transitioned to Rex Ryan’s hybrid 3-4 defensive scheme. Some players throughout the front seven that were productive in Mike Pettine and Jim Schwartz’ defensive schemes that were based on 4-3 concepts haven’t been able to replicate that success in their new roles. So, going into the offseason and most notably the 2016 NFL Draft, it’s likely that the team will look to acquire defenders that fit the archetypes for the positions needed for Ryan’s system to thrive. Today, we’ll take a look at Boise State Safety Darian Thompson.
Thompson is 6’2 and 212 pounds and is a very fluid athlete. In his senior year, Thompson had 65 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 2 forced fumbles, 1 sack, 5 interceptions and 4 passes defensed. Over his time at Boise he has amassed 19 interceptions, making him the all-time Mountain West leader in that category. The Lancaster, California native has zero fear in the run game and is quick to diagnose, as you’l see below:
Thompson is a tackler, not a hitter. When he goes to bring down the offensive player more often than not it’s via a wrap up, heads up tackle and not throwing a shoulder. That will serve him well in the NFL from a health and tackle success standpoint.
This is a great example – note how Thompson gets into the backfield, wrong arm (stymies) the guard and makes the tackle for loss. That’s some great work if he were a linebacker, let alone a safety.
You don’t get to be the Mountain West All Time Interceptor without knowing about to understand route concepts and breaking on the ball well. Thompson is a really good free safety because you can trust him to not only re-route a receiver if he’s in the box, but to play that center field role and make the right choice almost every time. Take a look at this play, which to me is a quite similar variant of the 2 trap principles Rex Ryan tried to use this year in Buffalo:
Notice how he re-routes 2 to his side going vertical, then sinks as he sees the QB cocking to throw. Great stuff.
This next clip highlights the ability to read a situation and make something out of nothing. His line has done a good job of flushing the Nevada QB and forcing him into a throw away. Not so fast however, as Thompson does a little sideline magic and gets the ball for his team.
Being able to have a player like that in today’s NFL is far more valuable than the “tone setter” because the passing nature of the league will give Thompson ample opportunities to make the smart play when it comes to ball awareness.
When you’re as good as he is in coverage, you typically don’t want to have him wasting that talent. As a result, Thompson wasn’t used as much in blitzing, which will be something he’ll need to work on in the NFL.
Potential Fit with the Buffalo Bills
To me, Thompson fits the Bills’ defense like a glove. He’s smart, rangy, tough and an interception machine. Having him patrolling the deep end of the defense for Rex would allow him to have a competent player that doesn’t fall for double moves Ryan can trust, even if only as a 3rd safety at first. I cannot recommend Thompson enough as a fit in the 2016 draft for the Bills, particularly because of his length at the position without losing the hip fluidity and athleticism some of the taller safeties in the class show when watched.