Utah State HB Darwin Thompson is the true definition of a sleeper. He received no football scholarships at any level coming out of high school. In fact, he did not even start for his high school in Jenks, Oklahoma. Thompson took the JUCO route and walked on to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College and was redshirted.
Once Thompson was eligible, he made the most of his opportunity and became an All-American and MVP of the Southwest Junior College Conference. Although Thompson was dominating on the field, he still did not get an offer from the elite college football programs. He ended up receiving offers from South Alabama, Southern Miss, Middle Tennessee State, New Mexico, and the one he ended up accepting, Utah State.
Thompson got to Utah State and never looked back. In 13 games as an Aggie, he totaled just under 1,400 scrimmage yards and averaged 7.9 yards per touch. Thompson is electrifying and possesses a unique combination of speed and power, and is dangerous catching the ball out of the backfield.
I was disappointed to hear that Thompson did not receive an invitation to the NFL Combine because he would’ve had a spectacular performance and raised his draft stock. His strength coach at Utah State said on Twitter that he would have ran a sub 4.4 and jump a 40+ inch vertical. There is also a video of Thompson at Northeastern Oklahoma benching 24 reps at 225 pounds which is the amount prospects lift at the Combine.
Thompson’s skillset reminds me of Chicago Bears running back Tarik Cohen and certainly can have a similar impact for the team that picks him.
Ability to Break Tackles
Both Thompson and Cohen are small running backs. Thompson is listed at 5’8″ and Cohen is even shorter at 5’6″. Most running backs at their height rely solely on their speed, but what is unique about Thompson and Cohen is that they can break tackles by running around defenders as well as running straight through them. Thompson is listed at 200 pounds which is uncommon for a running back at his height. Cohen isn’t quite as strong as Thompson, but he is listed at 181 pounds which is still above average for his height. Here are a few plays where this speed-power dynamic comes into play.
In this play against Wyoming, Thompson stiff arms fellow draft prospect Youhanna Ghaifan to the ground. Keep in mind that Ghaifan is half a foot taller and almost 100 pounds heavier than Thompson. Most small running backs would have been absorbed into the hit and get tackled for a loss of yardage, but Thompson is able to use the stiff arm almost like a launch pad to help him reach his top speed faster.
Here is some footage of Cohen when he was at North Carolina A&T. Cohen is also bouncing off defenders like Thompson and is able to score a touchdown. Most small running backs are shifty, make you miss kind of guys, but very few of those running backs are able to run through tackles like Thompson and Cohen.
This was Thompson’s best play on tape. In a 56-17 win against Hawaii, Thompson is able to maintain his balance through multiple hits and score one of his three touchdowns on the day. Thompson is smaller than most running backs, so there is limited space for defenders to attempt to make a tackle on him. Thompson looks like a pinball bouncing off defenders and he made countless plays like this one during his one season at Utah State.
Cohen can also break tackles in similar fashion. Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cohen is able to spin out of two arm tackles and then proceeds to break another tackle before he is finally tackled. Both Thompson’s and Cohen’s ability to maintain balance through contact is such a valuable trait to have as a running back and it allows them to make some spectacular plays.
Thompson’s and Cohen’s speed has already been mentioned and showcased throughout this post, but it is a defining trait for both players. Here in this run against San Jose State, Thompson hits the next level and no one comes even close to catching him. There are very few football players, college and NFL, that are able to catch Thompson from behind on a run.
Cohen also possesses this same breakaway speed. In a Week 3 matchup during his rookie year, Cohen and the Bears defeated the Steelers on this run in overtime. Cohen makes a sharp cut and is able to outrun the rest of the Pittsburgh defense to win the game.
Team Fit: Green Bay Packers (2nd-3rd Round)
Many draft sites project Thompson as a late round pick or to go undrafted. If I were a GM in this league, I would not lose any sleep selecting Thompson during Day 2 of the draft and giving him a significant role in my team’s offense.
Thompson to the Packers makes a ton of sense. New head coach Matt LaFleur has experience with Dion Lewis, who is a similar running back while he was the offensive coordinator in Tennessee. Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams have had their moments during their time as a Packer, but Thompson gives Aaron Rodgers a deadly weapon out of the backfield that Jones and Williams are unable to provide. Wherever Thompson gets picked, he will carve out an important role for that team’s offense.
Get ready to get used to hearing Darwin Thompson’s name. He will be an exciting player to watch for many years to come.