The Broncography of Syd’Quan Thompson

Syd’Quan learned about responsibility early on in his life. Born the oldest of four boys, he grew up in Sacramento, California in an extended family and community-focused neighborhood. As he put it, “Everyone was the cousin of somebody. Everyone went to the same high school and the high school was in the center of the neighborhood.” His youngest brother Shaquille is a five-star recruit by Scout.com and is being pursued by several Pac-10 teams.

Syd’Quan became a father during college, and he now has a young daughter of whom he is extremely protective. Much like Denver safety David Bruton, whose son has been the focus of his life, Thompson learned that he had to grow up early, and is very upfront about how it has matured him and changed his life. He noted, “When you have a kid, it makes you appreciate life more. You never find a love like that, nowhere. I see why my mom was always overprotective of us when we were kids. That love for your child is real different, real special.” So it is. A player with a daughter at home is a lot less likely to be out getting into trouble when they should be concentrating on family and football.

Thompson was a late draft-day decision in 2010, as the Broncos traded a 2011 5th-rounder in exchange for two 7th-round picks to obtain Jammie Kirlew (who didn’t make the team) and Thompson. Syd'Quan ended his rookie season tied for the team lead in interceptions (2) with both Champ Bailey and Renaldo Hill, contributed 10 tackles and four passes defensed, and finished tied for fifth on the team with eight special-teams tackles. He was somewhat erratic as a punt returner (3 returns for 18 total yards with 3 fumbles), but he does show some skill in that area, while needing to develop better ball security both in catching and keeping the kick once he receives it. The emergence of Eric Decker, Cassius Vaughn and DeMaryius Thomas as returners, along with Eddie Royal, will push Thompson to improve, but provides Denver with a larger cushion of depth in terms of the return squad as well as the cornerback and safety positions.

Born Syd’Quan Tramele Thompson on Feb. 7, 1987, in Sacramento, California, Thompson attended Grant Union High in Sacramento where he was a three-time all-state performer as well as earning All-America honors from PrepStar and SuperPrep as a senior. The year prior, he received California’s Junior Mr. Football Award for his 18-touchdown and 5-interception campaign.

As a high school senior, Thompson led his team to a 9-2 overall record while earning second-team All-Metro honors from the Sacramento Bee. The two-way threat gained 1,136 yards and scored 13 touchdowns as a running back and collected over 70 tackles and two interceptions in the secondary. He was invited to play in the Cali-Florida Bowl, an annual matchup between all-stars from California and Florida, and made the most of his opportunity, obtaining offers from Arizona, California, Kansas State, Oklahoma, and UCLA before ultimately signing with the Golden Bears. He was given a four-star rating from Scout.com, who listed him as the nation's 13th-best cornerback prospect. Rivals.com also gave him a four-star rating, ranking him as the 13th-best athlete prospect in the country and the 21st-best postseason prospect in California.

Following his high school experience, he attended the University of California from 2005-2009; he redshirted his freshman year and then started every game for the next four years while attending Cal, where he majored in Social Welfare. Thompson began to receive honors as a redshirt freshman, when he earned first-team Freshman All-Pacific-10 Conference honors from The Sporting News. He was also named his team’s Most Valuable Freshman and finished sixth on the team with 60 tackles (35 solo) and had one interception, three pass breakups and two fumble recoveries, including one that he returned for a touchdown.

His next three years followed suit. He set a career high as a redshirt sophomore with 78 tackles, 55 of them solo, as well as adding one fumble recovery, one INT and a team-high 11 passes defensed. His junior year was perhaps his best overall, with 70 tackles (41 solo), four interceptions (128 yards) and a school record-tying 18 pass breakups and two sacks as well as 28 punt returns for a total of 344 yards (12.3 yards per). He would be recognized with first-team all-Pac-10 honors as well as being named his team’s Most Valuable Defensive Back. At this point, he was being talked about as a 1st- or 2nd-round draft pick, but chose to return to Cal for his senior year.

His final season at Cal was a small step down, with another year of first-team all-Pac-10 honors for posting 49 tackles with 35 solo, one interception for 38 yards and a team-leading 11 pass breakups and eight punt returns for 45 yards, a 5.6 avg.  He was also named his team’s Most Valuable Defensive Back for the second year in a row. Thompson also received his team’s Ken Harvey Award for showing academic commitment and improvement. His performances were enough to gain him an invite to the Senior Bowl. However, there were now questions as to his ability to make the jump to the next level.

The questions on Thompson fell into two categories. The first was his size - it’s interesting to note that the average CB in the NFL is 5’11” and 193 lb. As KC Joyner noted in an ESPN article (Insider access required) during Thompson's senior year, 

...only 28 out of 64 starting cornerbacks in the NFL in 2009 were listed as being both 5-foot-11 and 193 pounds.The most amazing part here is that not only did 36 other starters come up short in at least one of these categories, but 15 came up short in both. Some of these 15 are or have been among the best at their position -- Antoine Winfield, Nick Harper, Andre' Goodman, Ronde Barber, Asante Samuel, Brandon Flowers, Nathan Vasher and Cortland Finnegan.

Thompson's height is just like the marketing penny. Two more inches in height would add an extra digit that makes a psychological difference but it doesn't really make any difference in the final analysis. Everything my metric and scouting eyes have seen thus far say that he should be considered an early-mid first-round prospect.

Joyner’s numbers create some interesting questions, but then came the letdown in Thompson’s senior year, and questions about his speed became public knowledge. It’s one thing to be short - Darrell Green was short. It’s something else to be short and slow. Thompson chose not to run at the Combine, and rumors of speed issues began. He had a hamstring problem that was slow to heal; he would miss running the 40 at Combine and it would also affect his Pro Day times - with no ‘clean’ numbers to rely upon, teams became understandably leery with that concern. He also had a shoulder injury at Combine and his Pro Day, and as a result he didn’t participate in the bench press.

At his Pro Day, he ran the 40 in an average of 4.62, and his stock dropped as if it were Black Monday. His hamstring wasn’t fully healed, but the NFL isn’t forgiving when they are about to throw around money on a player. A vertical leap of only 33 inches didn’t help his case either. His 10-yard dash was 1.62, and that’s closer to linemen speed than it is to that of a cornerback. The fact is, Thompson is more quick than fast, explosive with both a closing burst and the burst out of his backpedal, and he looks as if he plays faster than his timed speed. He’s also probably faster with his hamstring healed, but questions will remain about his ability to cover man on man until his play confirms them or puts them to rest. In general, though, Thompson is usually considered a zone-coverage player who needs to work harder on positioning.

There were a lot of things about his draft reports versus his film that offset some of the concerns with height and speed. As noted, Thompson has a good closing burst, which is something that is easier to see on tape than to time, and he explodes nicely out of his backpedal. He gets his head around well to see the ball, and while he doesn’t have a great vertical leap, he has excellent timing when he uses it and gets a hand in front of the receiver’s face or on the ball well without committing pass interference. 

He reads the quarterback’s eyes well, is skilled at timing his contact and isn’t afraid to make big hits - he played safety in some situations for Denver during the 2010 season when injuries shortened the team's depth at the position. That ability to tackle has also served him well in run support. His fearlessness also has led to one of the key elements in a successful defensive back - a very short memory for mistakes and a great deal of confidence. The fastest cornerback in football isn’t going to go a few games without being beaten - it’s whether you let it shake you on the next play that often makes the difference.

Thompson has shown the ability to separate receivers from the ball with his hits and he seems to have some talent at stripping the ball as well. He watches the play unfold carefully, reads it well and does an above-average job of sniffing out bubble screens. On the other hand, he has too often tended to let receivers dictate routes rather than use his strength to divert them, and that has too often made it easy for them to get inside leverage on slants. That’s a coachable issue, but it’s something that he’s going to need to address. He’s probably at his best in off-man and zone coverage. The combination of reading plays well, watching the quarterback and receivers’ eyes and that explosive burst out of the backpedal have given him the ability to jump routes, permitting him to notch two picks last year despite limited play. He’s also fluid getting in and out of cuts, despite early concerns with his ability to open his hips when turning in coverage.

With the very real possibility that Perrish Cox will miss games due to suspension and/or jail time and questions remaining on the status of both Champ Bailey and Andre’ Goodman, Denver needs to find cornerbacks who can do more than fill in - they need them to play, and to play well. John Fox has a well-earned reputation for running zone-heavy schemes, and that should play to Syd’Quan’s strengths.  Thompson’s tendency to miss on re-routing WRs is more of a liability in Cover 2 than it is in Cover 3, where his tackling ability comes into play more in defending the run. Additionally, when the team runs a 4 shell (Cover 4, or ‘quarters’, depending on the part of the country and the coach’s preference), Thompson is well-suited for the defense. Given the consistency with which NFL teams are going to the short passing approach, Thompson’s skill at sniffing out the bubble (and other) screens is also very much in his favor.

John Fox is probably the best possible head coaching option for Syd. A former defensive back himself who has coached the position extensively over the years, Fox played for the San Diego State Aztecs back in the 1970s and loved contact so much that he was given the nickname ‘Crash’. He knows about as much as there is to know about the defensive secondary as a player and later as a coach, and he appreciates toughness in his players, recognizing the value of a timely intimidating hit. For all the legitimate concerns with his size, Thompson loves to hit and to tackle, two things that should serve him well with the new head coach. Syd’s value as a zone coverage corner should also help in his quest to stay with Denver. 

It’s often been said that with all but a handful of players, it’s not just the tools they have but both how hard they work on developing them and how well those tools fit the defensive scheme in which they play. Syd’Quan Thompson may not ever be a star cornerback, but he’s a talented and versatile player who may be able to help the defense that John Fox has used in the past right away. All the best of luck to him - 

And Go Broncos!

Learn to laugh at yourself. You will be ceaselessly amused. - Sri Gary Olsen

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