Don’t look now, but Shaq Thompson and the Carolina Panthers are making noise in the NFC.
Thompson, the veteran linebacker and former first-round pick, has keyed an impressive Panthers defense. Carolina rebounded from an 0-2 start to position themselves for a possible run at one of the NFC’s three wild card spots.
Before Thompson suited up for the Carolina Panthers, he tried making a career for himself as a minor-league outfielder for the Boston Red Sox.
Shaq Thompson is a veteran Panthers linebacker
An All-American linebacker at Washington, Shaq Thompson played himself into the first round of the 2015 NFL draft.
Carolina scooped up Thompson with the 25th overall pick and he immediately contributed 50 tackles and a sack as a rookie.
Thompson totaled 56 tackles, an interception, two fumble recoveries, and four tackles for loss in 2016.
Although Thompson never played more than 14 games in each of his first five seasons, his traditional statistics went up every year. Thompson had 109 tackles, a career-high 11 tackles for loss, three sacks, and three pass breakups last year.
Thompson played minor league baseball before he went to the NFL
Before Shaq Thompson pursued a professional football career, he had an opportunity to make a living in the minor leagues playing baseball.
The Boston Red Sox used an 18th-round pick on Thompson in the 2012 MLB draft. Thompson — who stands 6 feet 2 inches and weighs 225 pounds — was a right-handed outfielder.
Thompson played in 13 games for Boston’s rookie-league team that summer and had a stretch to forget. He went 0-for-39 with 37 strikeouts and an RBI in those games.
Only 18 years old, Thompson drew eight walks and finished that stint with a .170 on-base percentage. Thompson’s .000 batting average, however, should have given him the indication that maybe, just maybe, he was better off not playing baseball.
Thompson listened to his gut and played three seasons of football at the University of Washington.
Carolina needs Shaq Thompson at his best going forward
Shaq Thompson has taken to new head coach Matt Rhule’s culture and system with gusto and success.
Thompson recorded 31 tackles, two tackles for loss, a forced fumble, a recovered fumble, and two pass breakups in the Panthers’ first four games.
Thompson had two 12-tackle games in Carolina’s first three games and added two tackles for loss in the Week 4 victory over Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals.
Carolina is in an interesting position where, at 2-2 in an NFC South Division with the aging Drew Brees and Tom Brady, the Panthers could make an unexpected postseason run.
Carolina travels to the dysfunctional Atlanta Falcons in Week 5 before hosting Nick Foles and the Chicago Bears (4-1) in Week 6.
Winning both games and entering the Oct. 25 matchup at New Orleans with a 4-2 record would do wonders for Thompson and the Panthers’ postseason hopes.