NFL Wire News

Panthers miss OT again, settle on LB Thompson


The Sports Xchange

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — During the 2014 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers felt they had a good chance to grab their left tackle of the future. However, before Ja’wuan James could get to them at the 28th pick, he was snagged by the Miami Dolphins at No. 19.

On Thursday night, Carolina again hoped to land a potential franchise left tackle, and again missed out.

The Arizona Cardinals scooped up Florida product and Charlotte native D.J. Humphries with the 24th pick, one spot ahead of the Panthers. However, it was not as if they were disappointed with their consolation prize. If Humphries represented option 1A, Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson was 1B.

“Bottom line is, they were the two guys we were talking about. D.J. and Shaq, those were the two,” Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman admitted after taking Thompson with the 25th pick. “Either way, we’re getting a really good football player. They’re both really talented. They both have big upside. They’re talented guys, and we would not have been disappointed either way. That’s the way it fell.”

For months, mock draft after mock draft placed offensive tackles in Carolina. The entire league knows the Panthers need to groom a young guy for the left side, so it is not as if the team doesn’t. However, the offseason addition of Michael Oher at least puts them in a better position now than they were last year, when Byron Bell became the best option.

Adding the versatile Thompson does a number of things for a defense that ranked in the top 10 each of the last three seasons. First, the Panthers will head into 2015 with one of the best linebacking corps in the league. Thompson, Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis form a fast and intimidating trio that could spend plenty of time on the field together.

While the Panthers increased their use of a nickel defense the last few years, they often found themselves in mismatches. But now, instead of sending out a smaller nickel back, the 6-foot, 228-pound Thompson can help counter the league’s evolving offenses.

“What it’ll do for us is allow us to keep three linebackers on the field when a team goes to 12 — a person on two tight ends, and one of those tight ends is a Jimmy Graham-style football player,” coach Ron Rivera said. “You’ve got to be able to match up with those types of guys, and when you bring a defensive back in, you create different types of matchup problems, or they do for you. This gives us an opportunity if we have to match a certain situation by personnel, we can do it.

“At the same time, if a team catches us with regular defensive personnel under the 4-3, we can match up against 11 personnel, so we feel pretty good about that.”

Washington used Thompson, who won the Paul Hornung Award as the most versatile player in the country, at running back, linebacker and safety last year. The junior racked up six touchdowns: two rushing, one interception return, and three fumble returns.

The flexibility is a plus for many, but a problem for others. At February’s combine, Thompson told teams he believed his NFL future was at linebacker. Not everyone could see it. The Panthers did.

“I compare myself to (Bucs linebacker) Lavonte David,” Thompson said on a conference call with Carolina media from his home in Sacramento, Calif. “I feel like me and him were the same, size-wise. He was athletic, he was able to play in space. He was able to guard tight ends, running backs, and I felt like he was an athlete.”

Locally, Thompson was likened to Davis throughout the draft process. Comparing a couple of guys who each played linebacker and safety in college makes sense, but Rivera was quick to remind reporters to not get too carried away just yet.

“There’s a lot of characteristics that they share, but to honest with you, there’s only one Thomas Davis,” Rivera said.

Coincidentally, it was the 2014 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year who read Thompson’s name from the stage in Chicago. Davis, the first active player to announce a pick, did it for his eventual successor.

The Panthers are working on extending Davis’ contract, but taking Thompson was also a part of their long-term plan. Davis is 32, and while he likely has at least a couple good of years left, the end is coming eventually.

“My responsibility as a general manager is to look short term and long term. I’m on a tightrope, and I’ve got to think about those things, so everything we do is to fit both needs,” Gettleman said. “Shaq is a great scheme fit for us. He’s a talented, talented kid, and he’s got a lot of upside.”

When he arrives in Carolina, Thompson won’t threaten to take Davis’ playing time. The rookie will play, but he also will listen and learn from two of the best linebackers in the league.

“There are some long-term things that you sit there and go, ‘Wow, this guy has a chance to grow,'” Rivera said. “Hopefully, he’ll have a long career here, and he’ll be that guy that’s going to be here a long time. You look at the potential to have him in the mix with Luke on the field with him, and ‘TD’ with him, and again, he’s going to come in and he’s going to have to earn his opportunities.”

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