Other than what I’ve seen from Broncos running back Juwan Thompson in training camp, I didn’t know much about him. I knew he went to Duke. I knew he entered Broncos camp as an undrafted free agent.
I knew that every time I went on a radio show this week, I told the host to keep an eye out for Juwan Thompson, that he's got a chance, and I really like his game.
But his background? Didn’t know a thing about it. His college stats? Nope. His 40 time? Definitely not.
Now, after thinking about it, that’s the point. His pedigree, his history, his game film in the ACC: None of that matters. It doesn't matter that he played mostly special teams — as a college senior.
All that matters is whether he can play. After watching 10 or so days of training camp, I thought he could play. So I wrote as much here and here before the game. But let’s be real. It’s a guess. When a fifth- or sixth-string running back shows in camp, it’s usually because he’s going against third- or fourth-string defenders.
Even tonight’s preseason opener against Seattle, in which Thompson easily was the most impressive running back wearing a Broncos uniform, doesn’t mean he will become the latest undrafted free agent to make the 53-man roster in Denver.
But he’s giving himself a shot, at a position of need, to play running back for the best offense in the NFL.
If this football dream comes true, and Thompson does make the Broncos roster, it will be the latest example of something I’ve believed for a while. Far too much value is placed on combine results, measurables and college pedigree. Sometimes a guy can just play. Maybe that’s Thompson. Maybe it’s not. So far, he looks the part. And Denver running backs are dropping like it's hot.
“It’s always been a possibility of making the roster since Day One,” Thompson told me before a herd of media stampeded into his space. “Every day is a new day. Nothing is guaranteed. I opened up a couple eyes today, but I still have to move on to the next game. I can’t live in this moment for too long. I will accept it and make the best out of it for right now until we move on to the next game.”
I could look up his college stats, see how many carries he was allowed in David Cutcliffe’s offense at Duke, but none of that matters. All that matters is what he does over the next three weeks of the preseason.
But just in case(!), here is Thompson’s story, as he tells it:
He played mostly special teams — punt coverage, punt return, kick coverage, kick return — while at Duke. Yes, special teams.
“That’s what I did the majority of time my senior year,” Thompson said. “When I ran the ball, I just took those opportunities. But I learned early that special teams is a good way to make plays.”
He prefers to play in a passing offense. Yes, a running back who prefers a passing offense.
“Here in Denver, it’s similar to what I like. I like a pass-heavy offense. It’s what I grew up in,” Thompson said. “I understand how to protect the quarterback. I wanted to go somewhere that it’s a little bit more difficult to learn the offense. Peyton’s offense, it’s difficult. I wanted to learn something. If you go somewhere that’s easy, everyone can understand their lingo. But Peyton is a whole different style of quarterback. I understand pass-first, run-second. That’s what I grew up in.
Yes, he enjoys the task of picking up the blitzing defender. Who is this guy?
He didn’t stress on draft day, when his name was never called.
“It was about to be graduation and my birthday. I was like, ‘Whoever wants me, they got my number. They’ll call me,’” Thompson said. “There were a lot of 50-50 possibilities (with NFL teams who showed interest). And I didn’t have that much time to worry about it, honestly. I just wanted to enjoy these last couple days of my senior year. Then I graduated and the day after graduation, I had to leave.”
If there’s a position where the Broncos need help, it’s at running back. Montee Ball had an appendectomy. He’s out. C.J. Anderson left tonight’s preseason game with concussion symptoms. Who knows how long he’ll be out?
Meanwhile, Thompson entered the game as the No. 4 tailback. Tonight, he rushed for 59 yards on six carries, an average of 9.8 per carry, and didn’t allow a blitzing Seahawk to reach backup quarterback Brock Osweiler. He didn't fumble. He was solid against Seattle's backups.
I would tell you his college stats, or where he played his high school ball, or the areas of the game where he excels (blocking and pass-catching, from what I’ve seen in camp), or how many times he can bench-press 225 pounds. But I don’t know.
And I guess that’s the point. It doesn't matter. If he’s good enough, he will make the Broncos roster and become one heck of a story. All that matters is if he can play.