The Cardinals secondary has had a good year so far with plaudits handed round to Watt, Baker and many other of our leading lights. One man who doesn’t always hit the headlines is Jalen Thompson (Safety), Undrafted look at why he’s been a key part of this superior defensive unit so far.
The Tackling Machine
Jalen Thompson has delivered beyond expectation within the current season, demonstrating physicality, versatility and footballing intelligence to record 44 tackles, of which 33 were solo, that put him 17th in the defensive standings. It’s clear that he has put in the work during the offseason, as watching tape from his debut against Cincinnati and comparing it to recent performances his technique has improved, and he’s reading the opposition far better.
No.34 has made key open field tackles all season both left and right, and yet he remains an unsung hero in a secondary which has earned the 2nd highest Defence-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) in the League. Interestingly, in my mind, this makes him the very personification of this Arizona team, talented, hard-working, ever-improving and under-the-radar.
His stand-out moment for me was the game against the Rams, in which he recorded 10 tackles, including a master hit on Cooper Kupp, which knocked him out of bounds to prevent a reception. Kupp is having a career-high season, but the Arizona D restricted him to 40% less receptions, 50% less yards, than his season average excluding that game, and are one of only two teams to prevent him scoring. The defence is more than one player, but watching the game back, Thompson is a man-possessed, he wants receivers to know he is there, he wants them to fear him and his focus is on stopping the key Rams threats.
2021 production is a culmination of hard work
Thompson’s route to the Cardinals was an interesting one, named an All-Pac 12 safety in 2018, the Washington State Cougar was ruled ineligible for his Senior Year after he purchased an over the counter supplement at a nutrition store, violating NCAA rules in the process. He was later picked up in the 5th round of the 2019 supplemental draft after the Cardinals submitted the highest pick, a move which is looking more shrewd by the season, and ties him to the organisation for at least another season (2022).
Despite coming in late, JT started well in 2019, finishing with 57 tackles and an interception. He then made a notable increase to his size (10 pounds) and speed during the offseason coming into 2020, in an attempt to improve his ability to cover opposition Tight Ends and Wide Receivers. Unfortunately, this wasn’t to be a repeat of the steady upward progression we would expect due to ankle injuries. Now its 2021, and he is fit, one thing is clear: Thompson is living up to his rookie billing, is progressing with his game and together he and Budda Baker form an integral part of this game-winning defence.
Moving forward, there may be one further impact of Jalen Thompson’s superior play alongside Budda Baker. I can see Arizona seeking to trade fellow Safety Deionte Thompson in order to create roster and cap space for alternative incumbents and/or to increase the number of 2022 draft picks, necessary given they previously traded Rounds 4 and 5 for Marco Wilson and Zach Ertz.
Whatever happens with the Cardinals this year, long-term success will be dependent on solid defence with world-class Safety’s at the core. Budda gets the headlines, and I love him for it, but Thompson is one man I’m banking-on to continue elevating us to higher plains.
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