Chris Thompson might be the most underappreciated player in football. The Washington Redskins running back core has overall been disappointing this year. Rob Kelley hasn’t lived up to expectations, and while Samaje Perine is ok, the Redskins will need better from him to make a legitimate playoff push. Thompson’s name gets lost among the others, but unlike his counterparts, he might be the most important player on the Redskins offense.
Thompson is a quintessential third down back. He has great acceleration and the agility to help him beat defenders with ease. He is a good route runner out of the backfield and has the vision necessary to find holes in the defense. The Redskins know this as well, using him on every single third down during their Sunday night matchup against the Oakland Raiders, save the final third down of the game when it was all but over.
His vision and anticipation make him an excellent target out of the backfield, as he displayed Sunday night.
The running back runs an out route out of the backfield. His route is delayed and he initially fakes as if he was going to block on the play. Thompson chooses the perfect moment to deke out of the backfield, just as the rusher he was pretending to block gets to him. He slips by into the open flat where Kirk Cousins finds him for a quick dump off pass. Washington pulls both of their guards into the flat to lead for their back. Terrelle Pryor throws a good block upfield as well. Thompson does an excellent job navigating through the blocks. He changes his speed and stays light on his feet in order to get find an opening and get far upfield for a huge gain and a first down.
Thompson caught six passes on seven targets for 150 yards and touchdown. He was the Redskins most important weapon and was huge in their dominating victory.
He creates a match up nightmare, especially against zone coverage. It is harder to account for a man coming out of the backfield compared to a wide out, and linebackers sometimes lose him until it is too late.
He runs a late curl route over the middle of the field, as he again stalled as if he was going to block at the beginning of the play. Oakland is playing cover 4, and all of their linebackers disperse in zone coverage. They entirely lose track of the man in the backfield and they pay for it. Thompson quickly heads upfield and runs a perfectly timed curl. He catches a wide open pass then turns upfield for a decent gain.
Versatility is key in today’s NFL. Thompson has the ability to split out wide like a receiver and can make plays and create mismatches out there as well.
The running back is split out wide this play and Cousins gets him the ball instantly. Washington sends out their offensive line to block, but they are far away from the sideline where the ball was caught. The Redskins trusted Thompson to make move and stay on his feet before the cavalry arrived and he proved himself worthy. He finds a crease in the wave of Raiders defenders attacking him, and am impressive jump cut allows him to slip through the cracks and turn upfield. He gets a few blocks and torches the defense for a 74 yard gain.
His skill set makes him a huge threat in the run game just as it does in the air attack. Thompson added 38 yards on eight carries Sunday night, averaging 4.7 yards per carry.
His most impressive run of the night came in the latter stages of the first half.
The same vision, agility and anticipation that make him such a great route runner help him find space to make plays in the backfield as well. Thompson takes a delayed handoff out of the backfield. Washington pulled their center across the line to cover the A gap and create room for him. He finds space on the left side. Initially, he starts making way towards the sideline, but when he see’s the cornerback angling himself there he makes a quick cut upfield. He maintains his balance while making a precision turn around his blocker and then breaking towards the sideline again to avoid the rest of the defenders coming from the center of the field.
His vision and burst even allow him to make something out of a broken play.
The Redskins pull their left guard across the formation, as their right guard heads into the second level to seal the gap for the running back. Both guards get lost on the play, though. A Raiders linebacker now has a free run at Thompson. The running back manages to slip by him and between a small crease in the Raiders defense. It was a minimal gain, but with the atrocious blocking up front, the Redskins are lucky he didn’t get tackled in the backfield.
Chris Thompson will never be the starting running back for the Redskins and he will never be every down back. He is a niche player who has perfectly carved out an important role in this offense. He is a hard player to defend, though, and will be key to any sort of success they have this season.
He expects to see regular play this year and his role should be even larger than last year. The Florida State product did not play much in his first two NFL seasons, but over the past two years has become a major part of the Redskins offense. His career high rushing total (356 yards) and receiving total (231 yards) will probably both be shattered this season, and if Thompson continues his path he may become a superstar in the NFL.
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