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Draft on tape: Alabama’s Deionte Thompson doesn’t look like the answer at safety for the Seahawks

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College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl - Alabama v Oklahoma Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Earl Thomas is done in Seattle. I know, that’s still a very painful sentence to read and it was tough writing it too; but the truth really does hurt. The front office tried to trade him for a 2nd round pick last offseason. Thomas has missed time in each of the last three seasons through injury. The relationship is seemingly broken beyond repair.
Without Thomas, Pete Carroll got creative last year with his scheme, playing more two-high coverage and disguising things better. Ultimately, the Seahawks’ safety group became more interchangeable and versatile, defying the prototypes of the “strong” and “free” monikers.

The coverage schemes were in some ways more passive. For Seattle’s defense to be at its most dominant, having a true center fielder to cover the deep middle third of cover 3 is preferable. Thomas’ prescient range is generational and at a Hall of Fame. What if John Schneider tried to give Carroll more range back there? What if he wanted to upgrade the hesitancy and bad tackling of Tedric Thompson? What if he wanted to add more team speed on the back end?

In each draft, there are a small amount of safeties that meet the “rangy enough for NFL single-high” requirement. Last year, for instance, Derwin James, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Jessie Bates flashed it. In their rookie seasons, only James showed the sideline-to-sideline, arm-beating talent. The draft before, Malik Hooker hinted at that too.

2019’s safety class is particularly weak, and there are only two prospects whose tape shows sideline to sideline potential in the pros. Deionte Thompson and Nasir Adderley are the two players we’ll be looking at this week in “Draft on tape.”

Deionte Thompson

Deionte Thompson was the consensus first safety off the board coming into the season. Draftniks had him firmly in their top 10. But two blown coverages in the college football playoff against Oklahoma and Clemson saw his stock fall. Personally, I feel placing the blame solely on Thompson’s shoulders for those mix-ups is foolish.

Alabama’s coverage was strangely “bad” all year, with persistent blown assignments and missed communications. The way Thompson played both assignments told me that he was playing what he thought was right, rather than being blind to an obvious key or failing to execute the right technique.

His play throughout the season confirmed this, given he often did his job to the regimented degree that you expect from a Nick Saban-coached, starting safety. He played with a clear understanding of the Crimson Tide’s scheme.

Smaller space range

From a Seattle Seahawks perspective, for them to take a safety high, they must put fantastic range on tape. Thompson flashed impressive range in the tighter areas of the field.

From hashmark to hashmark against slower vertical crossers, he could run with them and undercut them. He picked up vertical seams. He got over the top of deep sideline routes from two-high. Stuff in Thompson’s immediate vicinity would be blanketed by the 21-year-old (22 in February) and swatted incomplete.

(Deionte*, my apologies)

Man coverage and matching

Thompson’s ability to cover in tighter spaces extended to man coverage, where Saban’s matching placed him in man-to-man assignments. He could get over the top of routes playing in two-high, but also rotate downwards as a safety. As a down safety, he covered receivers’ routes with impressive physicality, footwork, patience and route recognition.

Range limitations

By this point, you are probably asking why on earth the Seahawks shouldn’t draft Deionte Thompson? Answer: his range isn’t “crazy” or even sideline to sideline, like some analysts have claimed. Sure, Saban’s scheme demands that his middle of the field safety plays primarily from hashmark to hashmark, meaning that seam routes will hold them there and limit the range potential.

Yet, even with that limiter factored in, Thompson’s range still disappointed from the plaudits he’d received. He wasn’t helped by limited burst or long speed—I’d be shocked if he ran quicker than the 4.5s.

His tape is full of “nearly” plays that he’ll get further away from making in the NFL. Minkah Fitzpatrick managed to make some of these plays. Thompson couldn’t. It wasn’t just from single-high positions; he struggled trying to get to the honey hole in a “palms” assignment too. (Take all of #2 vertically unless #2 goes out in first 5 yards, then take all of #1 vertically). None of this looks like a safety who Seattle would take relatively high.

Hit power

Thompson is a vicious safety who was always trying to get a hit in on the ballcarrier and punished receivers catching in the weak spots of the defensive coverage. Encouragingly, he led with his shoulder rather than his head when going for the oncoming train impact.

Dangerous and ineffective tackling

However, his tackling technique needs refinement and is borderline dangerous. He does not maintain a near-hip relationship when approaching the ball-carrier, resulting in overaggressive pursuit angles. He lunges into tackles, resulting in misses and little wrap. He ducks his head into tackles, resulting in an increased risk in paralysis and missed targets. Better angles, footwork and form is needed.

In summary...not a Seahawk

In summary, Thompson’s flashes don’t outweigh the fact he hasn’t put on tape pure single-high safety traits. He’s a high football IQ player that will make plays, but his best fit is as a two-high safety who can be moved around in the NFL. If Seattle wants to take a shot at a rangy single-high safety, they should aim for the lofty heights of Mount Rainier and look at the raw Nasir Adderley. I covered him in this Draft on tape.