I remember watching the semi-final last year when Alabama faced off against Clemson. There were so many big name players to watch in that one. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Rashaan Evans, Calvin Ridley, Ronnie Harrison, Da'Shawn Hand and plenty more -- and that was just from Alabama's side. But within the crop of draft-eligible Crimson Tide studs, there was a player who was filling in who caught my eye more than anyone else.
That players was safety Deionte Thompson.
Thompson was flying around the field in both College Football Playoff games while taking the place of the injured safety Hootie Jones. Thompson, a true sophomore at the time, was playing purely off instinct and athletic ability. He was reading the quarterbacks' eyes in both games, and showed unreal range to get to passes and either break them up or affect their catch success in some way.
After watching him in both of those games, I went back and watched whatever tape I could find of him from earlier in the year and I continued to like what I saw.
Thompson is 6-foot-1, 190 pounds. His length jumps right out at you, but so does his lean frame. But just because he isn't as rocked up or as filled out on his body weight than other safeties might be, that doesn't mean Thompson won't play physical -- in fact, sometimes he's too physical. Thompson has a good mentality for playing the run and being physical at catch points. In his 2017 tape, he showed he's not afraid to go full speed into ball carrier to bring them down, often appearing reckless, but remaining in control, for the most part.
In coverage, Thompson was extremely impressive in 2017. He had just one interception and one pass deflection, but I would have told you that was more of a result of him not getting much playing time before Jones got hurt than anything else. When he was on the field, he was impactful with his presence -- the key for playing safety.
Fast forward to now here at the end of 2018 and the stock, talk, chatter, hype, whatever you want to call it has cooled on Thompson. There are some defensive series where Alabama doesn't even have him in the game, which is something I did not think would be the case after watching him last year. In what is considered the starter role, Thompson has only recorded two interceptions and six pass break ups on the season, stats that are bested by the likes of Juan Thornhill and Nasir Adderley, just to name a few.
Thompson's 75 tackles this season are, of course, a career high, but if Thompson is going to be as picked as high as some of us predicted he would be to enter into the season (top half of the first round), he has to make an impact on the ball; he has to get takeaways.
Thompson's last interception came in Week 3 of the college football season all the way back in September when the Tide faced off against Mississippi State. With that interception, Thompson had his second in just three games, and I thought the rest of the season was truly going to be a coming out party for the true junior. But that didn't exactly happen. What Thompson does can still be appreciated, but he did not have the same impact on the ball that I thought he would for the rest of the regular season. However, I will say he has forced three fumbles this season, and most of them have come later in the year.
All of that to say this, Thompson was still an All-American and All-SEC player 2018, and one or two takeaways in the upcoming National Championship game could be the momentum he needs to get right back in the driver's seat of a Top 15 selection in the 2019 NFL Draft.
I do still think Thompson is still learning to play at such a high speed yet stay in control, but he has this whole year under his belt as ground work for it. If what I'm seeing now is Thompson's ground floor, I can't wait to see what he might be near his ceiling.
I think Deionte Thompson is one of the best players in college football. That's why I have him currently ranked as the No. 4 player on my board. But I know the NFL isn't as high on him as I am.
Give me a big interception on Monday, Deionte, and their tune will start to change -- they won't have a choice but to recognize the rare talent he has on the back end.