That may seem like a bold statement before a single season is done, so let me explain. Shaq Thompson is a success already in that he has clearly shown this season that he is exactly the player the scouts thought that he would be when they gave him five stars and ranked him as the 4th best player in the nation as a senior in high school. That doesn’t mean he has maxed out his potential, or that the current incarnation of Thompson is the player the coaching staff hopes to see in a few years. The guy is a true freshman. Over the next few years, he will get stronger, faster. He will become better at tackling, better in coverage. After his junior or senior years, he has a chance to be selected early in the NFL Draft. However, it’s too early to know that right now.
What we do know is that Thompson has been every bit as good this season as a true freshman as anyone could have, or should have, expected. 51 total tackles, two interceptions, and a sack. One of those picks, returned for 33 yards, came last Friday in a close road win over Cal, in perhaps his best game of the year. Playing as the nickelback, which is a sort of linebacker/safety hybrid position that has Thompson roving the field as a run stopper close to the line of scrimmage and an extra defensive back in passing situations, his impact has been clear from early in the season. It didn’t take him long to become an important part of the defense, and as the year has gone on, his role has only increased.
Is he the most valuable player on the defense? No. Sean Parker and Desmond Trufant are defensive backs that are more experienced and more skilled at this moment. Danny Shelton is talented, but the fact that he plays nose tackle, such a key and irreplaceable role, that makes him so valuable. John Timu is also an important player on that side of the ball. But, those players aren’t freshman. It can, then, be said that Thompson may have the most potential on the team. By the time he is a junior, I believe he will be more valuable to Washington than Trufant or Parker are now. That 51 tackles could be more like 70 or 80. The 2 picks and 1 sack could look more like 6 and 3. His ceiling is practically unlimited, and yet, he is already contributing like a regular veteran starter. I cannot wait to see the player Shaq Thompson becomes.