Blair Miller > COMING SOON TO A SUNDAY NEAR YOU
Throughout the college season TFQ will look past the Heisman hopefuls and surefire NFL players to examine a lesser-known prospect who could later rise through the ranks and make an impact in the pros.
Chris Thompson, Senior RB, Florida State
After several years of merely average seasons, the 2012 Seminoles are evoking memories of past glory in Tallahassee. Entering this weekend FSU is ranked 4th in the country and lighting up scoreboards in a way not seen since back in the heyday of the mid-1990s when the football program was one of the best, led by Heisman-winning QB Charlie Ward (who went on to an NBA career), LB Derrick Brooks (later an All-Pro with Tampa Bay in the NFL) and RB Warrick Dunn (also of NFL fame). Florida State is 4-0 to start the season – 2-0 in the ACC – averaging 56.2 points per game and the running game is largely responsible for this success. In just four games the ’Noles have equaled last season’s total of 20 TDs on the ground and put up 281 yards/game. QB EJ Manuel has 7.8 yards per carry. Sophomore RB James Wilder Jr. has 7.0. Hell, even third-string back Devonta Freeman is averaging 6.4. It’s like this program thinks it’s Georgia Tech all of a sudden.
But the brightest star among this constellation of productive runners is tailback Chris Thompson. At 5”8”, 187 lbs., the diminutive senior is drawing comparisons to Dunn. In fact, Thompson has a great chance to be FSU’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Dunn did it 3 years in a row, from 1994-96. As a sophomore, Thompson won the Chick-Fil-A Bowl offensive MVP in 2010 and was penciled in as the first-string back in 2011. Then he broke a vertebra in his back on the first carry of the fifth game last year, against Wake Forest. Amazingly enough, Thompson was back to full strength to start the ’12 campaign.
The FSU coaching staff has been easing Thompson into duty early this season – partly because of concern for his injury, partly because they have a deep backfield, and partly because they weren’t in any close games against solid defenses until last week against Clemson. But the results thus far have been staggering. If Thompson had any demons in his memory from his injury against the Demon Deacons last year, he exorcised them with a 197-yard outing on 9 carries against Wake two weeks ago. Then, last week he carried 15 times for 103 yards (6.9 AVG) against the Tigers. To date this season, Thompson has:
33 ATT, 357 YDS, 10.9 AVG, 5 TD
11 REC, 121 YDS, 11.0 AVG, 0 TD
The rushing numbers are impressive, to say the least. Perhaps just as impressive though, are the 11 receptions in such a run-heavy offense – and that he’s averaging 11 yards on what are likely short passes. But consider both lines combined and note that through 4 games Thompson is averaging first-down yardage every time he touches the ball. Wow.
So, what might pro scouts think? First there is the concern for Thompson’s back, which seem to be an issue for him yet. In fact, front offices often regard impressive rehabilitation efforts as a plus that can, in a sense, cancel out the injury concern. And, if Thompson keeps up his production, they might overlook it anyway. (Witness when the Bills took former Hurricane RB Willis McGahee in the first round round in 2003 despite gruesome knee injury in one of the best title games in college history – Ohio State won vs. Miami in double overtime, 31-24 – fully expecting McGahee to miss his entire rookie season.)
Next, there is the size concern. That’s not really a concern anymore. Players like Dunn have helped override the traditional stigma against smallish backs, and Thompson hasn’t been shying away from contact at all this season by often taking on linebackers. Furthermore, one needs to look no further than C.J. Spiller or Dexter McCluster to understand that undersized backs are seen in a new light – one that values them as jacks-of-all-trades who can produce in both the passing and rushing game. A player needs speed for that, and Thompson’s fastest known 40-yard dash time is a blazing 4.32. And he’s showing the footwork in crowded spaces to match.
In other words, Thompson’s skill set should transfer to the NFL. He’s only starting to show up on the draft radar this month, but don’t be surprised if he’s showing up on Sundays soon.
UPDATE (Oct. 22, 2012): MRI results revealed that Thompson tore the ACL in his left knee Saturday vs. Miami