Thompson may not have production in year 1, but watch out for years 2 and 3.
With the 166th pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Kansas City Chiefs selected defensive end Stephen F. Austin BJ Thompson.
Which player do they get with Thompson? Let’s break down the movie:
Closing speed around the corner
As a prospect, Thompson was praised for his cornering, but Thompson doesn’t make a ton of corners in college. That doesn’t mean that he can’t folding – we’ll get to his agility later, but I think that’s partly a game strength issue.
Being 6’5″ and 220 pounds means the tackles have a big hitting radius to wash your arc, so Thompson couldn’t win around the corner in the traditional way. His pads are sometimes too high, but that’s is difficult for him to bend through contact as he lacks the functional strength to maintain his dash path.
Still, Thompson was able to access the college corner. Instead of winning around shorter angles, Thompson used his elite first step to quickly get the upper hand on tackles, then used his long strides to wrap the corner. Thompson has the speed to recover from longer angles and chase down, which means he doesn’t need to win on a shorter surface.
The encouraging aspect of Thompson’s game is that his lateral agility is terrific. At the East-West Shrine Bowl, Thompson showed more winning ability in a shorter turn. Thompson’s first step – even at a heavier weight – is ridiculously fast. He’s also quite comfortable moving sideways, which makes it easier for him to rotate his hips.
Thompson has excellent balance in his ankles – being able to bend well inside his foot and maintain balance. His cornering on contact is still a problem, but it was much better in this setting.
Access the length to go around the corner
Thompson’s passing rush plan was almost non-existent in college, but I saw flashes of him figuring out how to use his length as a passing passer. Thompson lacked the playing strength and size to rush with power, but he figured out how to use his length around the corner. On this rep, Thompson launches his hands to a two-handed bullrush, then, when the tackle starts to duck, he loops his arms through and flattens the corner with a drop tackle.
Thompson will need to add more power to make tackles worry about his bullrush, but it’s encouraging to see a Thompson base understand his length advantage and use it in his pass rush plan.
To succeed in the NFL, he will need to maximize this area of his game.
Late pass rush wins with agility
This rep isn’t necessarily a win, but I wanted to point out that Thompson does a good job of winning the pass rush reps late. His pass rush plan isn’t well defined, but he has reps on film from his late win in the rep. Thompson can’t convert speed into power well, but he uses his agility well to attack either shoulder. He’s faster than most tackles, so he can quickly change direction and trip tackles trying to recover.
Potential as a race defender
In college, Thompson was not asked to play the advantage like a traditional defensive end. Stephen F. Austin had him play a penetrating role, using his quickness to get upfield and his speed to get in close. Thompson didn’t have the playing strength and pad level to give the advantage, so the coaching staff just allowed him to be an athlete and wreak havoc.
It won’t work at the NFL level, so Thompson will need to increase his playing strength and lower his pads to be a better running defender. Fortunately, there were signs of improvement at the Shrine Bowl. Thompson showed the ability to use his length as a running defender, keeping his chest clean and stunning blocks. His enhanced strength also helped him not move all the time, and he was better at keeping his protection level low.
There’s a long way to go for Thompson to become a capable running defender, but seeing the signs of it through the pre-draft process is encouraging.
The bottom line
I will be honest; I didn’t see a draftable defensive end when I watched Thompson’s college movie.
He was too skinny to rush with any power, limiting his ability to rush the passer. Thompson’s pad level was also far too high to maximize his turn, and he had no type of pass-rush plan developed. As a running defender, Thompson was too thin to hold up at the NFL level.
That being said, his performance at the Shrine Bowl encouraged me. Thompson was able to add playing strength and weight to play against better competition, and he played well in that context. His pad level was better, he used his length and he flashed more corners than Stephen F. Austin. Based on this film, there are tools to work with.
The best part about choosing Thompson is that it resets the contract and development window the Chiefs had with defensive end Joshua Kaindoh. Kaindoh didn’t work out, so the Chiefs take another swing with Thompson. I still think he needs 20 more pounds. and at least one to two years of development before he can step onto an NFL field, but for a fifth-round pick, that’s perfectly fine.