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Meet The Rookie: A look at safety Mykkele Thompson

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No pick by the Giants caused more of a stir than fifth round safety Mykkele Thompson. Let's take a look and see if we can't see why they selected a player who didn't think he would be drafted

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Everybody knew going in to the 2015 NFL Draft that the New York Giants would have to select a safety. Though they were likely confident in the talents of Cooper Taylor and Nat Berhe, more bodies would be needed at the very least. As it happens, the draft fell so that the Giants were able to trade up for Alabama safety Landon Collins in the second round.

However, they weren't yet done addressing the safety position. In the fifth round, they selected Mykkele Thompson out of the University of Texas. The move would best be described as "puzzling", though some used considerably stronger language. The Giants were the only team to express interest in Thompson, and were the only team to have him in for a visit. He obviously must have made an impression.

So what then, did the Giants see?

Thompson wasn't invited to the Scouting Combine, but at the Texas Pro Day he put forth solid numbers. His 4.47s 40-yard dash and 4.46s 3-cone drill would each have rated fourth among safeties, while his 10-foot, 9-inch broad jump would have tied him for first.

Without being in the room for the interview, it's difficult to know if he has high character and football IQ, so we'll just leave that off to the side. Although it would be odd if he didn't, considering the emphasis the Giants have placed on those traits since the 2013 draft.

Without knowing exactly how Thompson's meeting with the Giants went, let's take a look at some film to see what the Giants might have seen in him. The Draft Breakdown clips are of other Texas prospects, but we can find Thompson (No. 2) in some instances.

Run Defense

Thompson is projected to be a free safety for the Giants, and they're primary duties are pass coverage. However, one thing the Giants have emphasized this offseason is improving their ability to defend the run game.

Play 1:

For this play we see Thompson lined up as a corner at the top of the screen. He's close enough to the line of scrimmage to show press coverage. However, the Longhorns are in zone coverage and Thompson comes on a blitz. Thompson doesn't try too hard to disguise his blitz, but he does get a great jump off the snap and meets the running back in the backfield for a loss.

His tackle was okay. He either didn't or wasn't able to square up to make the tackle, and a side-on arm tackle like that wouldn't work against a player like Andre Williams, however, it was good enough here. Thompson was also helped by a high snap that upset the timing of the play but it still probably would have been a tackle for a loss.

All in all, I'd call this play a "win" for Thompson.

Play 2:

For this play we see Thompson lined up as the free safety, the position he is expected to play with the Giants. One of the Achilles heels' of the Giants' defense in 2015 was their play of the read option. This just so happens to be a read option play. And, in fact, this play has one of the same faults as the Giants showed in the 2014 season.

While the vanilla read-option defense has the defensive end take the quarterback, forcing the play back inside, it is a fairly common wrinkle to have the defensive end crash in on the running back, forcing the quarterback to pull the ball out. He is then the responsibility of the outside linebacker. While this does potentially give up a bigger play, it also makes it relatively certain that the quarterback takes a hit as a ball carrier, so long as the linebacker plays his assignment.

In this case, the linebacker plays the running back as well, giving the quarterback a free run to the outside. That leaves Thompson as the last line of defense between the quarterback and the touchdown.

Thompson does a nice job to get in to position to make the tackle, however he hesitates slightly, almost allowing the quarterback past him. However, he is able to wrap up and force him out of bounds. All said and done, Thompson did his job, and showed good awareness to get in position, but I would have liked to see him be more aggressive in coming up to make the stop.

Pass Defense

Play 1:

Once again we find Thompson at the safety position. For this play the Longhorns are running a corner blitz, and Thompson picks up the wide receiver in coverage.

Unfortunately, this play is one of the ones that is tough to scout on TV. It's not uncommon for safeties to be out of the screen when the TV follows the ball. Because of that we only see the Thompson as he starts to move over into coverage, and then again as the ball falls incomplete. We don't see what happens in coverage before the quarterback releases the ball.

On You Tube, with the play speed set at 25 percent, it appears as though Thompson is in decent position, and the two get their feet tangled up. The announcers say Thompson tugs the receiver down, which may be, but without being able to see the next play -- the next 30 seconds of game time are missing -- we can't know for sure.

What we can see is that Thompson doesn't hesitate to get into position, he gets in pretty tight coverage, keeps his eyes in the backfield, and ultimately the ball falls incomplete. Obviously you don't want to give up penalties in the end zone, but since the offense is only on the 8-yard line on third down (the next play shown), the important part is that the ball fell incomplete.

Play 2:

For this play Thompson is back at cornerback, but Texas is in zone coverage. BYU uses play action to try to draw the the Texas defenders up, and runs a rub route with the slot and Z receiver. The Z runs into the DB who is assigned to cover him (I'm sure he intended to run a crossing route, and just hit the defender on accident), while the slot receiver runs a corner route into the endzone.

Thompson stays disciplined in his zone and does a good job of avoiding the mess and picking up the slot receiver. He then gets in solid position too keep the receiver from working free.

Judging by the play concept (play-action and the pick route) and the quarterback's eyes, this play was designed all along to attack Thompson outside. However, his solid coverage keeps the ball in the quarterback's hands long enough for the defensive line to pick up the sack -- the second part of the gif. This is a definite win for Thompson and the whole Texas defense.

Final Thoughts

The pick of Mykkele Thompson was the head-scratcher of the Giants' 2015 draft. He showed solid, but unspectacular, play against both the run and pass in 2014. Before that, he had a poor start to his college career, influenced by untreated vision problems. Because of all that, Thompson was barely regarded coming out of college.

Except by the Giants.

So what can I make of Thompsons' tape? Well, for one he definitely has issues to work on. His angles could stand to improve, and while his tackling got guys on the ground, I saw too many drag-down tackles, and that isn't going to cut it in the NFL. That being said, I think there is definitely something to work with there. He moves well in space, and doesn't show a lick of hesitance in coming down to play the run. He was quick on the blitz and disciplined in coverage.

Jerry Reese has made a habit of using his fifth-round picks on late round prospects the Giants believe to be good enough, or have good enough measurables, that they don't want to risk teams with compensatory picks to take a flier on. He did it in 2013 with Cooper Taylor, and in 2014 with Nat Berhe and Devon Kennard. Looking at that list, perhaps it isn't surprising that he selected Thompson in that round.