The final Draft Spotlight of the draft season comes just one full day before the NFL Draft begins on Thursday. This week we return to the Falcons' second-round pick, No. 55 overall, and examine a player who could be in the mix for the Falcons. Clemson defensive tackle Brandon Thompson is a name that has been closely linked to Atlanta in recent weeks and to get a better understanding of him we return to Ian Kenyon, Sideline Scouting's vice president of scouting, and his services.
In the area of odd nicknames, Thompson takes the cake so to speak. The six-foot-two, 314-pound lineman is known as "Yams," a title given to him for his large thighs that have helped him anchor the middle of Clemson's defensive line in recent years. It's an apt comparison, Thompson's thighs to yams, because of yams meaty appearance, which is larger than traditional potatoes or sweet potatoes.
It's also suitable because what he does with those thighs. Thompson's large frame allows him to anchor well and he's been a near-immovable force in the middle during his college career. A tremendous run stopper already, Thompson rounded out his game during his senior season when he registered 77 tackles and a team-high 18 quarterback pressures.
Some scouts still view Thompson as a run-stopper only and while Kenyon doesn't entirely agree with that, he is concerned about the defensive tackle's lack of sack production in college.
"Thompson is big defensive tackle who fits best in a 4-3 scheme and can play both the 3-technique and nose tackle positions in a 4-3 system," Kenyon said. "He's got a powerful base and is a space eater at 314 pounds. ... Thompson is more of a run stuffer than a pass rusher, he only had 4.5 career sacks and primarily uses just a bull rush move and he lacks the pass rush capabilities to be a force in the middle but he'll be a good find for someone in the second round."
However, Thompson was a focal point on the Clemson defense and often found himself fighting through double teams in the middle. Scouts love his strength and smarts. An Academic Honor Roll member during the 2010 season, Thompson has a 450-pound bench press and 36 reps of 225 on his resume. Add to that a 615-pound squat lift and a 370-pound power clean lift and the "Yams" nickname starts to make some sense.
Thompson displays a quick and forceful first step and stays stout in the middle. Based on his run stopping alone, many believe he's NFL ready right now.
"He's more of a run defender but he does have some pass rush capabilities," Kenyon said. "He's got a strong bull rush up the middle, but he's more of a straight line pass rusher, he's not the type of guy who is going to consistently get into the backfield and make plays."
Kenyon sees some of New Orleans' Sedrick Ellis in his game, and thinks an addition like Thompson to the Falcons defensive line would continue the strong run defense in Atlanta and still wouldn't hurt the pass rush with some coaching, especially if the big tackle can garner some double-team attention.
Thompson has great awareness on the field and his record is clean. A highly coachable player, he enters the NFL with a proven run defending skill set and the attributes to further develop as a pass rusher. Because of some of the other players available at the deep defensive tackle position this year, Thompson's stock has fallen a little.
"I think that there are two things that keep him from being in that top echelon of defensive tackles this year: scheme versatility and pass rushing," Kenyon said. "A lot of these guys being talked about in the first round mix (Poe, Cox, Still, Brockers) can play in any defensive system and can switch between being a 4-3 defensive tackle or a 3-4 defensive end, Thompson should be looked at as simply a 4-3 defensive tackle. Those four players mentioned above also all have the ability to get to the quarterback and have good pass rush ability, but Thompson lacks that and is more of a plug the middle type of player."
NFLDraftScout.com ranks Thompson as the seventh-best DT prospect available in the draft and has a solid second-round grade. A number of mock drafts have recently linked Thompson to the Falcons in the second round and with head coach Mike Smith's philosophy of a strong defensive line rotation in place in Atlanta, Thompson would make a great addition to an already young and improving defensive line.
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