clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The 5 O'Clock Club: This week’s difference maker - focus on Chris Thompson

New, comments

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere...

The 5 o’clock club aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.

Today I want to spotlight Chris Thompson

A (very) brief look at his high school and college background:

Thompson was considered one of the top all-purpose players in the country coming out of Florida’s Madison County High School, rushing for over 2,300 yards and 33 touchdowns while leading his team to a state title as a senior. He got on the field right away for the Seminoles, playing 11 games (23-120, two TD rush, 6-150 on kick returns), missing two due to a death in the family.

In early October of 2011, it looked as though Thompson’s football career could be over. After struggling with back pain in the spring and fall camp, he took a hit that broke two vertebrae in his back. But he rehabbed diligently over the next several months, somehow making his way back to the field for the start of the 2012 season. That sort of toughness, added to his sprinter’s speed, [made] Thompson a potential late-round pick as a change of pace back and return specialist in the NFL – if he stays healthy.

Thompson didn’t stay healthy — he suffered an ACL injury in 2012, cutting his final college season short and casting even more doubt on whether he would ever play professional football.

Despite the injury history, Thomson was drafted by the Redskins in the 5th round in 2013, and many Redskins fans were ambivalent about the decision to draft him, recognizing the explosive skills he had demonstrated in college, but openly questioning the decision to use even a 5th round pick on a guy who was “injury prone”.

What did Hogs Haven have to say about Chris at the time? Here’s an article from 28 April 2013:

The team needed a speedy change-of-pace complement in the backfield, and they may have just gotten one in Florida State's Chris Thompson. The pick comes as a bit of a surprise with similar home-run threats on the board including Oregon's Kenjon Barner and Clemson's Andre Ellington.

Thompson was off to a promising start to the 2012 season before a torn ACL ended his year in October. Prior to that, Thompson logged 681 yards while averaging 7.5 yards per carry, a pace which would have made him the Seminoles first 1,000-yard rusher since Warrick Dunn in 1997. He was also heavily involved in the receiving game, as showcased by his eight-catch, 79-yard performance versus Clemson. He could be a nice checkdown option for Robert Griffin III as a speedy guy who can quickly leave yards behind him.

Thompson's injury forced him to sit out the combine and only took part in his pro day at a limited basis. Thompson participated in the vertical jump and posted a height of 35 inches. Prior to his injury, Thompson posted a 40-yard dash time of 4.42 according to nfldraftscout.com. He's a shorter, shiftier change of pace back, but plays bigger and more physical than his sub-190 pound frame suggests he should.

I’d say that time has shown this to be an excellent pick when compared to the two alternatives mentioned in the article (Barner & Ellington). While Ellington has had some success, it looks like CT is going to end up having the better overall career. After rushing for over 1,300 yards and 6 TDs, and adding over 750 yards and 3 more TDs in the passing game in his first two seasons with the Cardinals, Ellington’s production has fallen off a cliff since the ‘14 season ended (in large part due to the emergence of David Johnson as one of the league’s premier running backs).

But that wasn’t the only view of Chris Thompson to be found on Hogs Haven in 2013. Before securing his gig as the resident “outsider” amongst the Washington Post Insiders, Mark Bullock was a valuable poster on Hogs Haven, using the handle “UK Redskin”. He offered his thoughts on Thompson just after the 2013 draft as well.

Before we get carried away, he won't be an every down player and you don't want him running between the tackles and taking hits. Thompson won't break many tackles, he doesn't have the strength of an Alfred Morris. In fact, he's almost the polar opposite. He's a guy you want to get him to the edge and just watch him explode.

It's not just his speed, he's incredibly quick and agile which means he loses very little speed when cutting and changing direction. He can make defenders charging up to the line of scrimmage completely miss on a tackle with a simple fake one way or an other.

If there was something the Redskins offense lacked last year, it was explosiveness in this role. Can Chris Thompson step up to the plate?

Unfortunately, Chris Thompson lost nearly all of his first two seasons to injury. By the end of 2014, he was beginning to look like a disastrous draft pick.

Prior to Training Camp in 2015 — what should have been the start of Thompson’s 3rd successful year in the league — this was the message: In what could be his last chance to make it with the Washington Redskins, Chris Thompson enters the 2015 season with a clean bill of health.

Hogs Haven had this to say as Camp was starting two years ago:

Chris Thompson enters the 2015 season in a situation very similar to the one he faced when he first entered the NFL: If he can just stay healthy, he has a chance to make a name for himself as a Darren Sproles or Dexter McCluster-type weapon. Unfortunately for the diminutive third-year running back, the injury bug has proven to be quite the pest throughout his career.

#1. The Redskins drafted Thompson in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, a year after sixth-round pick Alfred Morris tore the league up as a rookie; the two late-round running back picks could not have gone much differently for Washington. Thompson has been plagued by injuries and hasn't made enough of an impact when he's been healthy, and has therefore managed just three carries in two seasons. Those carries came over a two-game span in late 2014, and they led to just 12 yards.

(Editor’s note: This description of CT’s first two years as a Redskin sounds disturbingly similar to the Josh Doctson story)

#2. Thompson is an elusive runner with the highly-coveted ability to break off a game-changing play at any moment, but that is irrelevant if he can't stay on the field. Much like fellow 2013 Redskins draft pick Phillip Thomas, his two-year NFL career has been mostly spent rehabbing injuries — a factor totally out of either player's control.

As a junior at Florida State, Thompson suffered a horrific back injury that left him with two fractured vertebrae. Though that was the worst of his injuries, it was far from the only one. He hasn't played a full season of football since 2010, with a torn ACL, a torn labrum and a sprained ankle among his many afflictions, and he has done little to merit more responsibility when he's been on the field. Ball security and patience have been cited as his two biggest fixable problems (there's not much he can do about his size or durability), but Thompson will struggle to improve in those areas if he can't get through a full training camp.

(Editor’s note: You can sense the frustration that people were feeling — knowing that injuries aren’t the players fault, yet wanting to get a return on investment from the player. Again... Josh Doctson.)

#3. With health once again being a massive caveat, Thompson's two real chances to earn a roster spot this year are as a third-down back or a returner. Rookie Matt Jones is the early favorite to win backup duties in the backfield, but having not yet played a down as a pro, he's no sure thing. Thompson offers upside in the passing game, having caught six of the seven passes thrown his way for 27 yards and a touchdown, and he amassed 45 catches for 430 yards and a touchdown while at FSU.

His size and quickness suggest he could carve out a role as a return specialist, but he has thus far returned just seven punts (for 36 yards) and eight kicks (for 160 yards) for the Redskins, and he rarely handled those duties in college.

#4. He is built much like rookie running back Trey Williams, who, at 5'7" and 195 pounds, went undrafted in part because his frame does not bode well for a heavy workload in the NFL. If Thompson can't stay healthy or impress the coaching staff, Williams ought to step in his place as something of a reset button. The two backs have similar size and skills, but the newcomer Williams has a much better history of staying on the field.

Bottom Line: Thompson should get a fair chance to earn a roster spot, but he must stay healthy and prove his worth over a handful of challengers. With Morris a lock for the starting job and Jones all but a lock to make the roster (the benefits of being a third-round pick), Thompson will have to fight off Williams and fellow hopefuls Silas Redd Jr. and Michael Hill to earn the third and potentially final running back job.

As hard as it might be to imagine now — going into camp in 2015 — Chris Thompson was seen as a player on the bubble, fighting with Trey Williams, Silas Redd and Michael Hill for a roster spot.

There’s certainly no lack of respect for Chris Thompson now.

First came the news this off-season that Chris Thompson signed a two year contract extension worth $7 million with the Washington Redskins on September 5, 2017.

Per Master Tesfatsion, Thompson received a $3 million signing bonus and is eligible to earn up to $250,000 per year in per game active roster bonuses. In addition, Thompson can earn up to $1.125 million in incentives.

ESPN’s John Keim discussed Thompson’s role on the team and his importance to it:

The Washington Redskins have long considered running back Chris Thompson a vital part to their offense. That's why they signed him to a two-year contract extension Tuesday.

[He] had signed a one-year, $2.75 million restricted tender this off-season. Thompson, a 2013 fifth-round pick, is coming off his best season, the first one in which he played all 16 games. He rushed for 356 yards on 68 carries and caught 49 passes for 349 yards, posting five total touchdowns. He also returns kickoffs.

The 5-foot-8, 191-pound back has become more effective in all facets of the game: running with better vision and more patience, improving in protection and perfecting his route-running.

Also, with the Redskins having lost wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon to free agency, Thompson will be among the holdovers they look to often, especially early in the season.

"The thought of him not being around scares the heck out of me," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said.

It’s easy to understand why Jay Gruden feels that way about his third-down & long yardage back. Chris Thompson probably has the play of the season for the Redskins in their first two games. The difficulty comes in figuring out just which play that is:

Thompson has been the most productive Redskins offensive player so far this season; he may be the most productive player on the entire team!

Now, some fans — and even some former Redskins players -- are calling for CT to have an expanded role in the offense. Gruden, in a way that is characteristic of his cautious approach to the physicality of football, is leery of giving Thompson too much work:

"He's so important to us on third down we just have to be careful," Gruden said of Thompson, via ESPN.com. "He's not the biggest guy in the world. We don't want him to get 20-25 carries a game and get a lot of pounding on that body. He's definitely needed in pass protection and the routes and all that stuff on third down and red zone. So we'll try to expand his role a little bit, but we don't want to go too crazy with him."

This week, John Riggins — a man who knows more than most about playing running back for the Redskins -- disagreed with the Redskins head coach, and said that Chris Thompson should be the Redskins starter.

It’s hard not to be blown away by what Chris Thompson has done for the Redskins through two games. His average of 13.1 yards per touch is sixth best in the NFL. He’s one of seven players in the league with at least three rushing or receiving touchdowns. He’s one of just five players with at least 80 rushing and receiving yards. Thompson is often described as a change-of-pace back, and his pace is apparently frenetic: He’s been the most explosive player on Washington’s offense, and has scored three of his team’s four offensive touchdowns.

All that — along with the rib cartilage injury suffered by Kelley on Sunday — has led some to wonder whether Thompson might be worth a look as the team’s featured back next weekend.

“I’m gonna tell you what, two words: starting back,” John Riggins said of Thompson on ESPN 980 this week. “That’s who they need to be playing. He’s the starter. Had he been the starter, been in there for some of those plays [against the Rams on Sunday], they would have probably had 275 yards rushing. I think definitely he’s the best runner they have right now, as far as picking holes and finding daylight.”

Riggins said the team’s younger backs, Samaje Perine and Mack Brown, should also be given a look. And he praised Kelley’s effectiveness in traffic. But he said the same thing so many viewers observed on Sunday: that Kelley seemed to leave yards on the field more than once by not choosing the proper line to avoid defenders.

Riggins would like to see Thompson get a chance, regardless of Kelley’s health and Thompson’s diminutive stature.

“I still think Chris Thompson is their best back,” he said. “He can run between the tackles. How much smaller is Chris Thompson than Warrick Dunn? I thought he was tiny, and he made people miss. I mean, that’s the skill of it.”

Dunn is listed on NFL.com as 5-foot-9 and 187 pounds, almost identical to Thompson, who is listed at 5-8 and 191 pounds.

Poll

Which Redskin (individual or position group) will be most critical to the outcome of the game against the Raiders?

This poll is closed

  • 36%
    Kirk Cousins
    (47 votes)
  • 4%
    Jay Gruden
    (6 votes)
  • 5%
    Greg Manusky
    (7 votes)
  • 0%
    Matt Cavanaugh
    (0 votes)
  • 20%
    Offensive Line
    (26 votes)
  • 0%
    Jordan Reed / tight ends
    (1 vote)
  • 2%
    Wide Receivers
    (3 votes)
  • 4%
    Rob Kelley, Samaje Perine, Mack Brown
    (6 votes)
  • 6%
    Defensive Tackles
    (9 votes)
  • 0%
    Ryan Kerrigan
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    Preston Smith
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    Junior Galette
    (1 vote)
  • 1%
    Zach Brown / inside linebackers
    (2 votes)
  • 6%
    Cornerbacks
    (9 votes)
  • 0%
    Safeties
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    Hopkins
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    Tress Way
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    Punt & Kick returners
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    Bill Callahan
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    Tomsula
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    Torrian Gray
    (0 votes)
  • 6%
    Chris Thompson
    (8 votes)
130 votes total Vote Now