2016 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Boise State S Darian Thompson

Boise State safety Darian Thompson brings down Hawaii running back Paul Harris, left, in the first half at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho, on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. (Joe Jaszewski/Idaho Statesman/TNS)

As you should know by now, our attention has now shifted to the 2016 NFL Draft as it relates to the prospects. From now until the draft takes place, we hope to profile as many draft prospects as we possibly can for you. Most of these player profiles will be centered around prospects the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have interest in.

One of my favorite prospects so far and a real possibility to land in Pittsburgh. Boise State safety Darian Thompson.

#4 Darian Thompson/S Boise St: 6’1/7 215

The Good

– NFL size and certainly looks the part of an NFL safety with adequate hand size (9 1/4)
– Impact player in both run and pass game, well-rounded game
– Decisive, instinctive player and a plus alley defender against the run, fills the box well, and is an impact hitter but not at the expense of fundamentals, still breaking down, wrapping up, and exploding through
– Hard hitter who can separate player from ball and will be an intimidating force over the middle
– Change of direction ability makes him an asset in man coverage underneath, football IQ lets him read the QB and break on the ball, and shows film study on the field, understanding route combinations based off down/distance and splits to anticipate concepts
– Complex defense, quarters based, but with tons of pattern reading involved, getting him ready for NFL defenses
– Statically impact player with several big plays, rock solid junior and senior seasons, a highly decorated player

The Bad

– Arm length and wingspan are on the shorter side (30 3/8, 73 3/8)
– Probably does not have great straight-line speed, could struggle in man-to-man coverage vertically
– Occasionally can gamble and get beat over the top, part of the risks he take based on instinct and film study

Bio

– Three year starter and had started final six games redshirt freshman year
– 19 interceptions ranks third all-time in Bronco history, 12 over the last two years
– 2015: 8.5 TFL, 5 INT, 2 FF, 1 sack
– Two-time First-Team All Mountain West
– 2015 Jim Thorpe semifinalist to nation’s top defensive back
– WR/DB in high school, 7 interceptions and 13 receiving touchdowns senior season

Tape Breakdown

I really like this kid. You can probably tell that already based on all the positive marks and the remarkably few negative ones. Maybe I didn’t watch the best tape, or should’ve found some better competition games, but I had a lot of trouble seeing any consistent negatives. Safeties are tough to judge on tape, always falling out of frame, but the negatives I did see were not very consistent from game-to-game, and criticizing a player for one off play isn’t a good way to evaluate.

So our main focus here will be on the positives. The many, many positives. Thompson can do it all. Plays the run as well as he does the pass. Love a safety that can serve as the alley defender, coming down into the B gap and supporting the run. Thompson’s ability to react and throw his weight around as a tackler – while avoiding being reckless and losing his fundamentals – is huge for me.

Watch him on these two plays against Washington and Hawai’i doing similar. Coming down to against the run and making a tackle at or behind the LOS on third down, getting his defense off the field. That’s the blue-collar, mix-it-up mentality every safety has to adopt. Can’t expect to sit in a two high and cherry pick interceptions all day.

Or he’ll hit you in the open field, destroying the receiver on this pivot route.

And then there’s the 19 interceptions. Watch him sit back in Cover 4, read the QB, high point the football, plucking it over the receiver, and getting a decent return out of it. Guy that sees ball, gets ball.

This play reminds me of Mike Mitchell, lowering his tackle point for a legal, impactful hit to separate player from ball, creating another interception.

 

You can see some of the pattern reading in the Broncos’ offense, matching receivers based on route combination. Here is what Thompson told me at the Senior Bowl about his defense.

“We were more of a quarters team. We did mix things up though. Played Cover 2, play Cover 3. But predominately a quarters team…most of the time it turned into man, if that makes sense. So it was more of a man quarters, not a true four deep.”

That will give him a leg up coming into the NFL where defenses are incredibly complex and nuanced.

Grades and evaluations are partly based off of the class around them but I’d definitely peg Thompson as a first round player. Don’t put him in a role to play man to man vertically a ton, or he could get exposed, but having him as the underneath/robber safety is a role he would thrive in. It makes me view him as more of a strong safety, though again, he has the skillset to play both, and a perfect replacement for Will Allen and/or Robert Golden, should neither return. He’s someone I’m circling with that 25th pick in this year’s draft.

Projection: Mid-Late 1st

Games Watched: vs Washington, at Virginia, vs Hawai’i, Senior Bowl

Previous Player Profiles
Hunter HenryEli AppleLaquon TreadwellDadi NicolasKendall Fuller
Deion JonesJihad WardKevin PetersonVonn BellMichael Caputo
Andrew BillingsMackensie AlexanderTyler ErvinAustin BlytheChris Jones
Sheldon RankinsNoah SpenceJordan JenkinsYannick Ngakoue

About the Author

Alex Kozora

Full-time blogger from mom’s basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.

  • steelburg

    Count me in as a huge fan those first to gifs remind me of the play Troy made on Monday night football against Chris Johnson where he came from the deep safety position and tackled the RB for a loss. He closed so fast to make the tackle ESPN showed it for about a week straight. I think he would be worthy of that first round pick IMO. His stock is rising fast though I know he was among the winners list at the senior bowl so that helps him move up boards if he has a good combine that will also help. I’m interested I hope the team is. He is the second best safety in this class behind Ramsey.

  • falconsaftey43

    Agree across the board with your analysis Alex. Good size, well rounded. He missed a couple tackles, but it wasn’t a consistent problem. I’m 100% willing to live with some of his mistakes that come from taking chances to get the ball. He’s my personal preference for the Steelers 1st pick at the moment. (I really like WVU Karl Joseph too).

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    Does anyone here know what kind of 40 yard dash numbers Thompson is going to post?

  • PittsburghSports

    There’s not much to dislike about him, and I could definitely see us drafting him in Rd 1. The only problem seems to be where he went to school. Boise St. When’s the last time we had a 1st Rd pick that wasn’t from a power conference? Ben Roethlisberger? If I had to choose a Safety in this draft I’d take Karl Joseph, because I think he has NFL explosiveness, but his knee injury will be a big question mark. I’m really torn between Safety, OLB, DE and I suppose even G/T for our 1st Rd pick. Excited for free agency to start so we can fill n some of these question marks.

  • Alex Kozora

    Not sure. Probably a 4.55, somewhere around in there. Won’t be terrible but won’t blow you away. Interested in his 3 cone times to show his COD.

  • Alex Kozora

    If you’re looking at what the Steelers have historically done, then yes, I agree. Pittsburgh loves to choose from their Power 5 conferences.

    But if we’re just looking at if Boise State has produced good talent, then there shouldn’t be any concern (and I am saying this generally to anyone who still harbors that faulty notion). Iloka, Demarcus Lawrence, Doug Martin, Ryan Clady have all come from there in recent years.

  • PittsburghSports

    No doubt, but if you do look at history, even going into the 2nd Rd it just seems unlikely. Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio St., Notre Dame, Georgia, Michigan St., Stanford, Florida, Virginia Tech, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois, Texas, Florida St., Michigan, Syracuse, Virginia… and then 2004 you had Miami(OH) and Tusculum lol. I agree tho, Boise St has had some good players. Its almost like expecting the Steelers not to go CB in Rd 1, because history says they won’t.

  • steelburg

    I 100 % agree. Don’t forget about Austin Pettis and Titus Young. Boise normally puts out plenty of talented players.

  • Chad H

    If he is there when we pick I would take him. By his 3rd season in the NFL he will be the difference maker!

  • Chad H

    I will take that for a SS.

  • Alex Kozora

    Right, totally understand your point.

  • Michael James

    One of the two safeties I really like (the other one being Karl Joseph).

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    Those plays were nowhere close to Troy Polamalu style or resembles.
    If anything, his game mold is VERY similar, in matter of fact it is very safe to say he’s TJ Ward 2.0. If we want somebody who can step in, being pro-ready and start from day one then yes he is your guy. I’m not complaining, I just don’t know if he is worth a 1st round. In this crap draft class; we may have to overshoot and grab him like we did with Jarvis Jones.

  • steelburg

    I agree.

  • steelburg

    Have you even seen the play I was refer to that Troy made against CJ2K? If so you would know that both of those plays resemble the gifs I’m talking about. Is he going to be as good as Troy probably not, can he make some plays that may remind you of Troy I would say he probably could. I didn’t originally see him as a first rounder either I felt like he was a early 2nd round guy before the senior bowl. But like I said his stock is rising because he had a really good senior bowl and if he has a good combine I think he will basically be a lock in the first round IMO.

  • Big Joe

    I’ve been watching him for several months now to see how his last year went and to gauge his potential fit for us. I liked him then and still do. I know folks are put off by his age but there is a lot to like. Let’s see what speed improvement he’s made at the combine but I don’t think it’ll change my eval. I like him for our 2nd but we may have to move up to get him. Having said that, I don’t see team moving up this year for a 24-year old prospect.

  • steelburg

    How old is he?

  • harding36

    Not to be contrarian, but I don’t love this guy (at least not in the 1st round). I get that he is good going downhill and that his play in the box is solid, but in-the-box safeties don’t warrant a first round pick, IMO. I mean, Will Allen is good in the box too. To me, Thompson seems stiff in coverage, doesn’t flip his hips well, and will have trouble covering receivers downfield. I also think the arm length is a bigger deal than others might, especially since he doesn’t always take great angles as a tackler. I’ll be interested to see him in drills at the combine; but he just doesn’t seem like a natural athlete to me.

  • Big Joe

    I think he runs around that now so hopefully we’ll see him improve after focusing on that aspect of his game. Hoping for around 4.45 – 4.5. Either way, he’ll be able to cover TEs and most RBs

  • Big Joe

    Let me check again but pretty sure he’ll be 24 by season start.

    Edit – other sites show him as 22 now so don’t know where I got 24 from.

  • Ju

    You won. I love this guy now 🙂

  • Ike Evans

    Deonne buccanon, calvin pryor, and kenny vacarro are just a few safeties drafted that play in the box….so much so they are considered linebacker hybrids….so im not sure the league would agree with ur point that they are not worth a 1st round pick

  • Ike Evans

    I like thompson. I think his stock will rise as the draft process goes along….thompson, bell, joseph, keanu neal, jalen mills, killabrew, james bradberry, jayron kearse, or even tyvis powell……id be happy to grab any of those prospects…..very talented guys

  • steelburg

    22 isn’t bad IMO. 24 is a little scary as a 1st round pick because you basically get 1 good contract out of him and then he will be on the decline. He would be 28 or 29 at the end of his first contract compared to a guy like Shazier who will be 25 or 26. So I could see how a 24 year old would scare teams off if that was his age.

  • steelburg

    I’m with you I see Thompson’s stock rising. It has already risen IMO due to the Senior bowl.

  • ATL96STEELER

    S, OLB, DE/DT, T/G…All of the above work imo, which makes this a great BPA opportunity to get a top shelf talent that might be a tad raw vs filling a void. Taking an overview look at this draft…3 QBs, 3 OTs, 3 CBs, 1 WR…etc are starting to look like locks in the 1st….somebody is going to get pushed down the board to PIT.

  • PittsburghSports

    If we resign McLendon, definitely not NT/DT, but therein lies the free agency question, and many of those positions could be eliminated from the need category depending on who we sign.

  • harding36

    But those guys weren’t drafted highly solely because of their ability to play in the box. They were drafted highly because of their ability to play in the box combined with their ability to run and cover. I actually think your list illustrates why Thompson isn’t a first rounder, because IMO he’s not the athlete those guys are. If you put him in that group, I understand using a first round pick on him, but I don’t think he compares favorably to any of those guys in terms of cover skills, and probably isn’t even in Pryor or Vacarro’s class as an in the box safety.

  • Alex Kozora

    That’s fair and I’m all for being a contrarian so don’t sweat it. I do view him as a strong safety and that naturally is going to limit him a little bit more than a free safety. But it’s the Steelers’ need. Thompson brings enough ball skills to patrol centerfield – even if it isn’t his #1 quality – and can be a real asset on short/intermediate concepts. Think he fits into the Steelers’ scheme very well.

  • harding36

    I agree that he’s a scheme fit and would be an upgrade; just don’t see a huge difference between him, Neal (who’s my favorite of the SS the Steelers have a shot at) and Cash.

  • PaeperCup

    I’m game. Saw one mock that had him to us in the 2nd. That would be sweet!

  • Alex Kozora

    I don’ know much about Neal but there is a world of difference between Thompson and Cash. Thompson can play in space. Cash is even more limited.

  • Ike Evans

    Pryor AND bucannon were expressly known as in the box thumpers as their main positive attribute….id argue thompson is better in coverage then calvin pryor RIGHT NOW….id argue hes a better athlete than pryor and as good a athlete as deonne…the combine will decide that but id bet you money his testing is comparable if you are interested in a wager…vacorro was known for his versatility but that hardly proves your point….could continue naming box safetys if you like

  • harding36

    No thanks on the wager. I don’t comment on this website to bet money. Sort of a silly offer, honestly. I appreciate your opinion though and like that this site has a wide range of knowledgeable fans/opinions. We’ll see what happens at the combine.

  • Tom Jackson

    Nice to finally read your evaluation of Thompson, Alex. He was the first prospect I scouted/evaluated this offseason and I’m totally with you on his value. He does everything you want out of a safety. I really hope the steelers take a long look at him if he’s there at 25. I actually liked his ball skills and pass coverage the most from the tape I watched. But like you said he also does a good job against the run. Thats why I wouldn’t even put a favorit out there, he can play both safety positions.

    Anything else you can share with us from that interview you had with him at the Senior Bowl, Alex?

  • Jake Milman

    Been waiting on this breakdown, I’m really high on this kid and think he can do it all.

  • Ike Evans

    Oh yea…betting on sports over the internet against ppl u dont know is very silly…silly me…nobody does that….wat was i thinkin?

  • Alex Kozora

    Nah, nothing else that notable that would be useful for the future.

  • harding36

    Agreed. ; )

  • Tom Jackson

    Thompson has nothing to do with a boom or bust player. He has a very diverse skill set and does a lot well. So he’s more of a high floor type of prospect. Would like to know where that boom or bust thing is coming from though… Something particular you read or your personal assessment?

  • Tom Jackson

    Pretty random, these safeties you name all have very different skillsets. Why would you like everyone of them?

  • PaeperCup

    I think I had this discussion with you before. He is one of the best all around safeties in the draft if not the best. But if there is something to pick at it’s that he can be too aggressive. Letting players get behind him, letting go TDs while trying to make a play. Not the worst thing in the world, but his style of play does come with a slight downside to match the big upside.

  • Ike Evans

    Because theyre talented….very very talented…beyond that their skillsets really arent that different….jalen mills is probably more of a free safety….killabrew is strictly a box…everybody else is in the middle

  • Tom Jackson

    Thats a pretty terrible evaluation of Thompson. To look at him as an in-the-box safety is pretty outstanding. He is a very good Zone Safety with exceptional reaction and ball skills. Where you see stiff hips would be another great question. I mean it’s not like he has to flip them like the most fluid CB in the game.

    As a side note it’s probably the first time I heard someone having a big problem with arm length on a Safety prospect. Very weird.

  • Tom Jackson

    Well but boom or bust means that he either fullfills his high potential or he completely busts out. Obviously thats never 100% the case there is always a middle ground but I don’t see how Thompson could be considered that way. Let’s say he does gamble to much and gets beat from time to time. He still has his solid pass recognition skills underneath and his good skills in run support, solid tackler whatever you want to name. Not to mention his Ball skills that let him make play on the ball many times he was in range to do so.

    So I don’t understand why you think he either falls flat on his back or gets that one thing and will become a exceptional NFL player.

  • Tom Jackson

    I heard it for the first time that this group of safeties is very talented class. Actually everywhere I look I hear the complete opposite that it’s rather thin of good prospects.

    Of your group I watched two extensively myself (Thompson & Kearse) and I’m one game in with the Ohio State guys. And stylistically they look very different to me.

    Btw do you have any favorits in the group you mentioned?

  • harding36

    I noticed several examples of stiff hips. 3:45 of the UVA game is probably the best example of the games above. But it was most obvious to me in the BYU game (and that’s not even counting his play on the hail mary where he gets completely turned around).

    Also, you don’t think arm length matters for a DB? It’s talked about all the time, even for safeties. I even remember Shamarko Thomas’ lack of height being excused because of good arm length.

  • LucasY59

    I also like that group of players, havent heard about Bradberry before, will check him out.

    I think it is almost a guarantee that the Steelers will pick a Safety and any of those mentioned could be good ones (and most likely one of them will be a Steeler!)

  • Ike Evans

    Well they arent wrong…it is kinda thin in the sense their arent many top tier prospects outside of jalen mills and their arent alot of guys after round 3…..but btw late first round and round 3 …there are alot of talented guys. I like keanu neal from florida and vonn bell from osu…those are my guys. Another thing …watching tape you have to keep in mind to look for traits and not just at roles. For instance, at florida keanu neal played more deep then his counterpart marcus maye(another good prospect) their roles were different because of the scheme they are asked to execute….doesnt mean maye cant play deep ….he has the speed and fluid hips to do so…he just wasnt asked to as much. Another example

  • LucasY59

    I had heard he was older (but unless there is some weird circumstance the oldest a College Sr should be is 23, with a rs yr) 22 turning 23 isnt too bad, and definitely not a reason to avoid picking him in the 1st

    The only reason no to pick him would be that there was a better player available, and if that is the case, I would be willing to move up and get him in the 2nd if the cost wasnt too high to do so (would be great to get two guys they had targeted as 1st rdrs)

  • LucasY59

    Really like his Size and ability to play the run and the pass.

    He is one of those guys you can safely Mock to the Steelers with the 1st pick (I think I said the same thing about Mackensie Alexander being a safe bet for the 1st rd pick, between those two I think the Steelers are improved regardless of which one it actually is)

    Thompson being a Safety makes the choice even “safer” (since the FO likes to prove everyone that mocks a 1st rd CB to the Steelers wrong) Darian fills a spot of need, is a playmaker at the position, would be a great tandem with Mitchell, and has value at the spot he would be picked, plus the Steelers actually Value the position enough to invest a 1st rd pick.

    I think there is a good chance he will still be available at #25 so the only way he isnt the pick is if a player slides to the Steelers pick. that wouldnt be a bad thing, but if it doesnt happen I think the Team will be more than happy to take him.

  • Tom Jackson

    LMFAO You can’t even see Thompson in the picture on the play you gave me. Is that how you “evaluate” players? OMG

    Tried to look for a full view but all 3 angles they showed in the full telecast don’t show the play. But still a terrible example, looked like he expected a hook route and shot in but obviously nothing he could do after that bad decision as the RB cut right off him for an angle route. At least thats how it looked but I can’t be 100% sure cause it isn’t on full display.

    And I didn’t say it’s not an advantage to have long arms even for a DB. Thats a given. But you wont see somebody drop a safety prospect down in their evaluation for it. He wont be pressing many receivers on the line and he doesn’t have a known tackling problem because of his short arms. If something like that would be the case there would be a reason to hold it against Thompson but I didn’t see any of it. Not by myself and I didn’t read it from any valid evaluator I put trust in.

  • Tom Jackson

    Ah ok I’ll look at Neal somewhere down the line. Saw his name also on some boards as high as RND 2 I think. Interested to see what he brings to the table.

    And I know what you mean by evaluating traits instead of their role on a defense. I’m aware of the difference. Lol But you can’t tell me that the other 7 safeties you mentioned have a very similar skillset and playing style. I understand your main point though you like the play of all of them enough that you like the steelers to grab at least one of them somewhere down the line.

  • harding36

    I think you need to relax. It’s just a discussion…on the internet. The OMG’s and LMFAO’s make you look a little petulant and don’t really add to the discussion.

  • Steeler Fanatic

    I want this guy. Reminds me of Steve Atwater. He can play the run or pass. I hope he has a weak combine to keep the limelight off of him. Please be there at 25.

  • Tom Jackson

    Now I’m the bad guy for correcting you cause you throw out totally uneducated prospect evaluations like presents on christmas eve. What kind of a joke is that supposed to be?

    If making it very clear that I highly questioned your example by showing my amusement about it bucked you, I apologize for adding my emotions into it. Btw what makes me seem angry when I write LMFAO or OMG is puzzling. I had fun writeing that piece of my comment and I actually think that came out. And I wont change my way of challenging opinions that aren’t thought through or suspect to say the least…

  • Matt Manzo

    Do we know how many teams ahead of us are looking for Safety’s?!

  • Applebite

    If they’re going to keep dragging out their rusty bucket (in Blake…), they better have somebody to help catch the water behind it. Lest we see more of what we saw during the Seattle game…particularly the game clincher for Seattle.

  • ATL96STEELER

    I hear ya, a rotational DE would be my preference too for a DL big. I get the snap count thing too, but after watching Sly Williams cave the pocket in the playoffs for DEN…making it easier for those edge boys to feast on Brady…I’m not ready to eliminate a NT.

  • Edward Hunt

    I want this to be the pick but will the steelers take someone as old as him?