At least one person at the scouting combine has an unshakeable, steadfast opinion when it comes to Shaq Thompson’s best position in the NFL.
“Outside linebacker,” Thompson said when asked. “... That’s where I feel the most comfortable. I like to be up by the line of scrimmage. I feel like I’m physical enough. I’m not the biggest guy, but I have a lot of heart.”
Others aren’t as sure where he fits. Some see Thompson, who measured 6 feet, 228 pounds, as a strong safety in the mold of the Seahawks’ Kam Chancellor. Others wondered if he might be a running back.
The conundrum stems from the fact that Thompson played all of those positions – linebacker, safety and running back, as well as special teams – at the University of Washington and in December won the Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player. As testament to his running ability, he scored six touchdowns last season – two on offense, three on fumble returns and one on an interception return.
Thompson has been working alongside the nation’s other top linebackers during the combine. On Sunday, he ran his 40-yard dash in 4.69 seconds, slower than the 4.5-range sprints he ran in preparation for the event and perhaps reinforcing that linebacker is indeed his best spot.
Thompson, who starred at Grant High School, has been preparing for the draft alongside another Sacramento product, Arik Armstead, a defensive lineman from Pleasant Grove High and the University of Oregon. Both have brothers who played briefly in the NFL – cornerback Syd Quan Thompson, who played one year with the Denver Broncos, and defensive tackle Armond Armstead, who had a short stint with the New England Patriots – and both are hoping to be taken in the first round.
Evaluators are captivated by Armstead’s potential, or in scout-speak, his “high ceiling.” He’s a college junior who also played basketball at Oregon until last year, when he decided to focus full time on football. Despite measuring an imposing 6-7, 292 pounds on Friday, there’s a sense that Armstead can add more muscle and power to his frame.
He has drawn comparisons to Calais Campbell, the 6-8, 300-pound Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman who was a second-round pick in 2008. CBS Sports draft analyst Rob Rang called Armstead “shockingly athletic” and figured he might be taken in the second half of the first round.
But he said there also was a risk.
“If I were an NFL team, I’d want to talk to him,” Rang said. “I also think there’s a bust factor. I don’t know if he loves the game.”
The questions about Thompson, meanwhile, involve his size and where he might play.
Mike Mayock, the NFL Network draft analyst who played safety for the New York Giants in the early 1980s, thinks Thompson is best suited for safety, and Thompson went into the combine as Mayock’s second-rated player at that position.
Trent Baalke, the 49ers’ general manager, said teams that run a 4-3 defense likely will look at Thompson as a weak-side or “Will” linebacker who provides pass-rush value. Defenses that like to put eight players close to the line of scrimmage, Baalke said, might see him more as a safety.
“His skill set and the traits he possesses allow him to be an intriguing prospect for virtually everybody out there,” Baalke said.
Washington general manager Scot McCloughan agreed. He said that even the teams that project Thompson as a safety likely will play him – like Seattle’s Chancellor – close to the line of scrimmage and that he would have many of the same responsibilities as a linebacker.
“He’s a good football player,” McCloughan said. “He’s active. He flies around the field. Where the ball goes, he goes.”
Chancellor measured 6-3, 231 pounds when he was preparing for the draft in 2010. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.62 seconds at the combine and leaped 32 inches in the vertical jump. Thompson jumped 331/2 inches Sunday.
Seattle general manager John Schneider used a fifth-round pick on Chancellor five years ago. Does he see similarities in Thompson, who played just down the road?
“I’d rather not get into how I feel about specific players and (how I) view them,” Schneider said. “I just know that being around Shaq, being in Seattle, that first of all he’s a great kid and everybody speaks very highly of him, and he’s obviously extremely talented.”
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.
MEET THE PLAYERS
Height/weight: 6-8, 290
Position: Defensive lineman
High school: Pleasant Grove, 2012
College: Oregon (2012-14)
Height/weight: 6-0, 228
High school: Grant (2012)
College: Washington (2012-14)