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With the 2021 NFL draft a little over a month away, everybody is focusing on where each of the blue-chip players will go in the draft, but there are those players that wind up going in the fifth, sixth or seventh-round that turn out to be diamonds in the rough.
Specifically honing in on the cornerback position, which the Chargers will need to address next month, there are a lot of quality players that’ll be available this year, with Caleb Farley, Patrick Surtain and Jaycee Horn leading the pack. But this year has some hidden gems in it.
Among the few who could intrigue Los Angeles when Day 3 rolls around is former Tennessee CB Bryce Thompson.
After signing as a four-star prospect from Dutch Fork High School in Irmo, SC, Thompson played in 32 games, starting in 27.
Thompson finished his career with 100 tackles (72 solo), eight interceptions, including three in one game in 2019, one pick-six, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, eight passes defensed, eight tackles for a loss, two sacks.
In the Vols’ two-high defense, he primarily lined up as an outside cornerback, while occasionally making appearances from the slot and safety to fill in when key players were out.
In the pass game, Thompson is at his best in press-man coverage, showing good use of his hands and length at the line of scrimmage to disrupt the release and continues to be disruptive with his hands throughout the route stem.
Thompson displays very good mirroring at the breaks and understands how to play with leverage to limit options at the top of the route. He has solid speed to undercut drag routes and slants and consistently displays excellent angles when closing on the catch point.
When the ball is in the air, Thompson displays excellent ball skills through a combination of tracking ability, balance and awareness.
From the slot, he has the quickness and agility to mirror shift receivers.
In the run game, Thompson has very good play strength and uses his long arms to shed blocks quickly, playing the run without hesitation and attacks oncoming blockers. He also shows excellent competitive toughness as a pursuit defender.
At the next level, he will need to work on his technique as he has the tendency to be too grabby past the allowable five-yard cushion leading to a fair amount defensive penalties.
Also, in zone coverage, he finds himself focusing on the quarterback far too often, causing him to lose track of his assignment.
Luckily, new defensive backs coach Derrick Ainsley, who served as Thompson’s defensive coordinator the last two seasons, would be able to clean up some of his deficiencies.
Head coach Brandon Staley covets position flexibility in the secondary and that’s something Thompson checks off on, having played in various roles in college.
“They like my versatility. Also my ball skills. Nickel, safety-spot, corner..they’ve been talking to me about different spots,” Thompson said about his feedback from NFL teams.
Overall, Thompson is an excellent prospect who provides the athletic ability, ball skills, length, play speed and versatility to thrive at different positions in the secondary, as well as the toughness and tackling skills to be a special teams ace at the next level.