Okay folks, raise your hand if you had Shaq Thompson penciled in at #25. Raise your hand if you saw him there in ANY mock draft. Raise your hand if you saw him in the first ROUND of ANY mock draft. Now you see why I'm no fan of "mock drafts."
Thompson is a carbon-copy of one of those high school recruits you see every year coming in simply labeled as "athlete" with no position designation. This kid played at outside linebacker, safety, and even at running back in college. So why did DG settle on him as the team's top pick instead of a needed offensive tackle, wideout, or the "one safety" in the draft, Landon Collins from Alabama?
Starve a Cold, Feed the Beast
Gettleman's approach to defensive football looks oddly similar to my own, and I've never been involved in college or pro football aside from being a fan-blogger:
He knows you cannot "stand pat" with a good starting defense...even one that does still need a couple of pieces. Well, he didn't draft any of the likely suspects and went with the "athlete" out of Washington. Nobody knows exactly where he's going to wind up playing. Some say he'll be a converted running back (highly unlikely at #25 overall, given the lack of experience in college there). Others say he'll become the strong safety (again, unlikely, but likelier than making him an RB). Still others, including myself, think he'll eventually settle at the WILL linebacker spot.
For those of you who aren't aware, it's the same position in the 4-3 that Lavonte David in Tampa Bay plays, and the two have very similar physical traits. Namely: SPEED.
As the saying goes, speed kills, and Shaq is a blazer for a linebacker and it's that same speed that keeps him in the conversation at safety. It's quite a testament to that athletic ability he has. Specifically, I'd like to know what he made on the Wonderlic. I'd really like to see a 24-25+ to make sure he's as quick of mind as he is swift of foot.
With Shaq's drafting, assuming he's going to be that WILL linebacker a la A.J. Klein or Chase Blackburn in the past few years. Blackburn is old now, Klein has shown a propensity for mental lapses in pass coverage, and frankly, I feel anytime you're not adding to a great defense, you're moving backward.
Like a well-oiled machine running at high RPMs and very hot, a top defense needs some "babying" during the off-season. It needs to go to the mechanic (Rivera) and get that TLC that only a master (football) mechanic can deliver. You don't take a Ferrari to Joe's Repair Shop down the street, and you don't let your top-five defense get a year older without changing a gasket along the way to keep it humming along at maximum efficiency. Also, don't forget that Thomas Davis isn't young and rumors are that he retires in a year or two.
Check it when it's Idling, not when it's off.
People forget that Gettleman pulled a similar stunt last season, only without having to trade to do so. He picked up a sliding Missouri DE named Kony Ealy late in the second round and he seemed to grow nicely his rookie season.
The thing about keeping a top defense is in the "maintenance." folks. Just like the car analogy. You change the oil at regular intervals to prevent a catastrophic failure down the road. Likewise in the NFL, if you don't keep feeding players into that top defense and wait until you find a gaping NEED, you've waited too long. Ealy was last season's oil change; Shaq is this season's. Neither was/is expected to come in and dominate from day one, but rather being groomed for spot-duty and for experience so when the time comes that they ARE called upon to start, they should be well-ready and the engine won't start to sputter.
It's going to take some time for the "other" Shaq (we all know that the single-first name refers to the long-since retired basketball center from LSU) to find his NFL footing and position(s), get used to the "speed of the game," and settle into his comfort zone like Bene Benwikere began to do around the middle of last season, and that Tre' Boston did beginning around week thirteen or so.
I could see Shaq playing at WLB, SS, AND nickel/dime LB. He may well be in competition to take A.J. Klein's job (who hasn't really impressed me so far anyway) and he might be in competition to take Roman Harper's job. We just don't know yet, but this early on, neither position on the defensive side would surprise me.
The need is more to replace Harper than it is to replace Klein. With the addition of Peanut Tillman at CB2, strong safety and weakside linebacker are the two positions on defense that could use some improvement the most. Shaq's speed makes him an ideal candidate for the WLB/Lb sub-packages position. His size makes him a scary-looking strong safety candidate, but I'm not yet sold that he has the raw coverage skills to defend the deep throws in the zone scheme, although I can see him covering the tight end in man coverage.
So, it's all going to depend on scheme-fit in the long run, I think. Fans live in an era of "instant gratification" and I know that the progress in the NFL is measured season-to-season or early season to late-season, as in Benwikere and Boston's cases in 2014.
The same space should be given to Shaq Thompson. Gettleman hasn't made a bad move yet, and I don't think he decided to start with the 25th overall pick. The confusion shouldn't be in the choice, not with Gettleman's track record of success so far. It should be be in what position he's going to ultimately settle into.
If you try and run an engine at peak performance without adding oil, it won't take long for the whole thing to seize up. We saw that in the overall safety play during the first 6 weeks of last year. "Dollar-store retreads" can only not screw up games for you in the best of times and in the worst of times, they can de-fang and de-claw a beautiful black cat's defense, as we saw against, for instance, the Pittsburgh Steelers last year.
Shaq Doesn't Know Bo
Partly as a testament to his overall athletic prowess, the Boston Red Sox made Shaq Thompson their top draft pick: Click here to open a new window and see the carnage.
I can't really say anything more - click on it and read the stat line. I'll wait.....
Suffice it to say he won't be using the "hobby" language to describe either sport, as Bo once famously noted about playing football. Hey, even Michael Jordan couldn't make it as a baseball player; it requires a unique skill-set that isn't so "athletic" in nature as it is a very specific skill set. I know this much because I was an outstanding baseball player in my "ute," once leading the entire "Little League" I was in with a .562 batting average. The second-place kid was over 100 points in batting average behind me.
At least I can clearly say I was better at "A" sport than "an" NFL player. Broad, sweeping statement of course, but that's about as far as I can go in good faith. Shaq won't be using baseball as leverage....except in those "funny plays" teams force rookies to "put on" at times in part of their good-fun "hazing" in welcoming the youngsters to the NFL. If Shaq needs a ready-made punchline, all he'd have to do is get up there and yell something about "Coach mad at me? I'ma threaten to go back to play baseball!" That would be sure to elicit quite an uproarious bit of laughter from his teammates while poking a little fun at himself in the process.
At least he gave it the "old college try," literally. He wasn't ever really a baseball player, but his athletic ability impressed at least one MLB club; he tried it, it didn't work out.
But at least he tried it!
The BoSox were "out" an 18th-round pick, likely got about what they usually do out of such guys on the whole, and Shaq's attention became devoted to the gridiron as a result. He has now parlayed his "athlete" label into a first-round NFL draft pick.
Not bad kid....not bad.
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