The Bears depth at the safety position is anything but "safe" right now. Ryan Pace ignored the skeptics and picked a great young player out of Penn State last year in Adrian Amos. Amos started his entire rookie season and got better as the season progressed, thereby giving Bears fans their first real glimmer of hope at the position since Danieal Manning played reasonably well all the way back in 2010. Amos's nickname might be "Hulk" but he can't hold up the entire back of the Bears secondary by himself. Harold Jones-Quartey did the best he could after coming over from Arizona last year, but barring some serious improvement he looks like a depth/special teams player moving forward. Antrel Rolle has some nice career stats but has had trouble avoiding the injury bug lately in the twilight of his career. Counting on him to stay healthy and play at a high level moving forward is taking a fool's chance. Aside from Anthony Jefferson who I liked coming out of UCLA last year (to fill a dime defender/special teams role) the Bears safety cupboard is bare. The position needs a serious talent infusion and if their actions in free agency are any indication (zero movement on any safeties so far) they expect to find that talent in the NFL Draft.
Darian Thompson, Safety, Boise State University
Darian Thompson just looks like a safety standing still. He's got a rangy muscular build that reminds me of players like Steve Atwater. Thompson doesn't do anything to discourage the notion that he's a top tier defender when he starts moving on film either. He is a smart player with tons of experience leading Boise State's secondary and a diverse skillset to help contribute at every level of a defense. When you combine all of those elements it's easy to see why he is ranked right near the top of this year's crop of safeties.
Thompson stands 6'2" tall and weighs in over 200 pounds. I was surprised to see that his arms are just over 30 inches long though, because on film it looks like he has terrific length and he uses every bit of his frame to make some tremendous plays in pass defense. While his timed speed on the track was not off the charts (4.69 seconds for the 40-yard dash at the combine) his play speed on tape looks decidedly faster. As usual the truth about his abilities lies somewhere in the middle. Darian has so much game experience that he is incredibly decisive. This helps boost his speed by helping put him in the best position before a play starts and by allowing him to move very quickly (in the proper direction) directly after the snap. That combination makes him appear much faster in game situations than his stopwatch time from Indianapolis would indicate.
Darian's wealth of experience recognizing and diagnosing plays also contributes to his most attractive attribute as a true "deep-third" capable safety: he's an outstanding ballhawk. Thompson's anticipation and fluid athleticism have helped him rack up 12 interceptions over the last two years and 19 overall in his time at Boise State, making him the Mountain West Conference's all-time leader in picks, passing Eric Weddle (according to broncosports.com). He can snare the easy errant throw but he can also track down the deep ball and finish off the play with a diving, hands-catch interception. That ability alone sets him apart from many defensive backs on the college level.
Many safeties who have excellent pass defense skills and good hands are thought of as incomplete players because they tend to shy away from heavy-hitting contact needed in run defense or they are poor tacklers. Luckily nothing could be farther from the truth when describing Thompson's play on the field. Like the aforementioned Denver Bronco great Steve Atwater, Darian is more than willing to carry full speed into a tackle on a ballcarrier. He can certainly hit but he is also a gifted tackler in the open field. Good tackling is a dying art form on the college stage but Thompson seems to have studied the lessons of his football forebearers and can drop a runner in the open field as well as almost any safety in the class. Justin Simmons from Boston College is slightly better, but honestly Simmons might be the best open field tackler in the entire defensive back class.
While it is rare to see 2 of the previously mentioned skillsets at such high levels in a college player, witnessing 4 or 5 of them (anticipation, decision making, athletic prowess, good pass defense and tackling versus the run game) and under a single helmet makes it easy to understand why Thompson earned All-America honors for both of the past two seasons. He combines so many qualities evaluators look for into a single package that it is impossible for me to imagine that he won't be off the board by the end of the 2nd round, no matter what qualities different teams prioritize in their safeties.
Thompson's only notable struggles on tape come in two areas and neither is egregious. He can get sucked in by solid play-action fakes. He is usually very good at tracking the ball and not taking false steps, but when he does it is almost always in response to well-executed play action. His athletic ability and reflexes normally allow him to recover, but it can put him in less than ideal positions. The other small fault is that when he's approaching a pile he can forget his tackling form while looking for a big shot on the ballcarrier. This can lead to a missed stop. I only witnessed a couple of times over a 3 game slate of tape but it is something he'll have to work out of his game. Those are both minor and correctable flaws with solid coaching, which Ed Donatell certainly provides for the Bears secondary group.
Thompson provides us with a glimpse of what a good athlete in a competitive program can accomplish if he stays for his full commitment (Darian is a redshirt Senior) and continues to improve every season. He is a ready-made starter at a position that is difficult to fill in the NFL. If he takes the field as a pro in Chicago next year I imagine fans will quickly forget the recent drought of solid safety play and embrace him as the next man up in a long line of great Bears safeties.