My question, however, is whether or not University of Washington linebacker/running back/safety Shaq Thompson could be a reincarnation of the defensive back simply referred to as “Woody” while with the Cowboys.
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I’m going to discuss Woodson shortly, but first I want to point out some potentially exciting comparisons between these two players as the NFL Scouting Combine is underway in Indianapolis. With linebackers scheduled to workout on Sunday, there’s really no more intriguing player to anticipate watching at this year’s event.
Thompson is the first player in awhile to garner added attention because of his ability to play multiple positions – and on both sides of the ball.
His primary position, according to Thompson himself, is outside linebacker in the base 4-3 scheme. The two-way Huskies star clarified as much for USA Today Sports recently:
"I’m a linebacker. Outside linebacker. Strong side, that’s where I feel most comfortable. It’s basically like a strong safety. Nowadays, this is a passing game. You need linebackers who can cover and drop in zone. And I’m a three-down player. You don’t have to take me off the field. Even on special teams, you don’t have to take me off. I love special teams, especially kickoff coverage."
Good enough for me.
When watching this guy play, you notice immediately that he has a natural gift for football. I’m not just pointing out his chiseled frame of 6-1 and 228 pounds either.
It’s one thing to be really strong, fast or tall, all natural attributes that are highly coveted in most professional sports.
It’s another thing when you just have that “it” factor. In Thompson’s case, it’s the ability to not only play on both sides of the line, but also make a huge impact in either location.
This isn’t like William “The Refrigerator” Perry taking a couple of hand offs a year at halfback from the goal line despite clearly being an over sized defensive tackle. Those plays were more of a “rub-it-in-your-face” type of novelty act by the 1985 Chicago Bears that obviously weren’t necessary with a guy named Walter Payton holding down the starting job.
Thompson is more like Deion “Prime Time” Sanders, at least in my opinion.
Sanders was never going to take over a game while playing wide receiver, but he was more than capable of torching any defense just because he had the football in his hands. Receptions, hand offs, kickoffs, whatever – Sanders was an eminent threat to score any time he had the ball, which obviously included turnovers.
On defense, Sanders caused more fear for opposing quarterbacks than any cornerback to play the game.
Thompson is not a cornerback and there’s no way he runs like Sanders once did, but his ability to change a football game did not go unnoticed during his final season at Washington last year.
Now, back to Woodson right quick, who also played in the Dallas secondary while Sanders was locking down half of the field for a couple of seasons.
Woodson, like Thompson, had tremendous athleticism during his college days at Arizona State University. As an outside linebacker, he was considered quite small for the position, although he was one of the most dominant players on the team by the time it was all said and done.
It was then-secondary coach Dave Campo that noticed Woodson before the 1992 NFL Draft. His idea was basically to turn Woodson into a safety, albeit a rather large one. Woodson played at around 6-1, 220 and was thought to be a tad small for linebacker – and this from a team that definitely believed in small linebackers.
Woodson was drafted in the second round of the ’92 NFL Draft and the rest is history. Impressive is the fact that Woodson offered the dynamic he did almost immediately upon arriving in Dallas. Although he wouldn’t actually become an official starting strong safety until 1993, incumbent James Washington was put on immediate notice.
In short, Woodson was a guy who moved to safety from linebacker and then showed the ability to cover man-to-man in the slot. This happens to be the most difficult location to cover any wide receiver given that they can go in both directions more so than they can when lining up wide.
A college linebacker isn’t supposed to have that kind of skill set, but Woodson did. While many remember that Charles Haley was the missing piece to Dallas’ championship-caliber defenses in the 1990s, I would also offer that Woodson’s arrival the same year might have been just as significant.
According to most mock drafts that are already up and running, Dallas is in the market for either an edge rusher, defensive tackle or running back in the first round of the coming draft in April.
I’m not so sure.
The idea that the Cowboys might choose a linebacker shouldn’t be overlooked. Dallas was apparently very close to selecting then-Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier just moments before the former Buckeye was snatched up by the Pittsburgh Steelers – this before anyone knew that Sean Lee would be lost well before the regular season began.
If the Cowboys continue their recent trend of simply drafting the best player available, Thompson could be a somewhat surprising addition. While linebacker may not jump out as an immediate concern, closer inspection of the Dallas depth chart shows that there’s probably going to be room for a potentially special player.
The rabbit hole really gets deeper when you consider the possibility that Thompson does have that experience at safety with the Huskies.
Does this make him Woodson?
Could he be as good?
Whether it’s an upgrade at linebacker or a possible makeover at either safety spot, Thompson is absolutely a prospect that could end up wearing the blue star in just a matter of weeks.
The reality is that Dallas is not likely to take a running back with it’s first selection, especially considering that this is a rather deep running back class. If NFL rushing champion DeMarco Murray does end up sticking around, a running back selection that early becomes impossible.
It’s also true that the top edge rushers and interior defensive linemen aren’t going to stick around for too long.
Might there be an undersized linebacker without a clear position in the NFL still available once the 27th selection arrives?
This might be likely.
Since a defensive selection is almost a certainty for the Cowboys in the first round, although not a guarantee at all, Thompson could be the surprise choice that nobody really expected. If he ended up being anything close to Woodson, regardless of his position, Dallas may very well have another deep push into the month January next season.