CHARLOTTE – The Carolina Panthers have added a player capable of being their next Thomas Davis – and they've done so while Davis is still playing like he's in his prime.
Linebacker Shaq Thompson was selected by Carolina with the 25th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft on Thursday night.
"I'm still speechless," said Thompson, who watched the draft with family in his hometown of Sacramento, Calif. "I'm really excited. It's a great opportunity to play with those two."
"Those two" are Davis, the NFL Man of the Year who announced the Panthers' selection in Chicago, and Luke Kuechly, the 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
"He's going to allow us to put three very fast linebackers on the field. I think he's going to be a great fit with Thomas and Luke," general manager Dave Gettleman said. "He gives us matchup abilities that we don't have, and there are some different things that we can do with him. We think he's going to be a terrific fit."
The 6-foot, 228-pound Thompson fit wherever needed at the University of Washington last season as a junior and made big plays more often than not. Thompson won the Paul Horung Award, given annually to college football's most versatile player after staring at linebacker, safety and running back. The first-team All-America rushed for 456 yards and two touchdowns and scored four times on defense.
"One thing you look at with players is, 'Do they score touchdowns or do they prevent touchdowns?' Well, he's shown he has the ability to do both," head coach Ron Rivera said. "He's a very physical football player that has an innate ability to get around the football and make things happen. We're excited about that."
Rivera said that Thompson's versatility would allow the Panthers, who often switched to a nickel package on defense last season, to more often feature three linebackers and better match up against offenses featuring "Jimmy Graham style of football players" at tight end.
The opportunity to team with and Kuechly and Davis - who called Thompson to welcome his new teammate shortly after announcing his arrival – is something Thompson embraces.
"Those are the two of the best linebackers - Man of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year," Thompson said. "Just learning from them and picking their brains – I feel like I can be one of those top linebackers learning from those guys."
The Panthers feel much the same way.
"He's really a complete package. There isn't anything he isn't capable of doing on the field that fits us," Gettleman said. "And he's a heck of a fit for us. There's nothing he can't do, and he showed that he's a tough kid. He will tag your fanny.
"He's like any young kid. He's got to learn to play the pro game, but he's capable of doing it all."
Gettleman said that given the Panthers' position in the draft, they were eyeing two players at No. 25 – Thompson and offensive tackle D.J. Humphries. Both were still available when the Arizona Cardinals went on the clock for the 24th overall pick, and the Cardinals selected Humphries.
"We would not have been disappointed either way. That's the way it fell," Gettleman said. "When it got to Arizona, we knew we were going to get one of them. We were thrilled either way."