As the 2020 NFL regular season came to a close, the Kansas City Chiefs' loss to the Los Angeles Chargers was all about depth. While the game may have resulted in an unfavorable outcome, several players were able to make statements with their play. Running back Darwin Thompson was one of them.
After a successful collegiate career with the Utah State Aggies, Thompson was drafted in the sixth round by the Chiefs in 2019. He burst onto the scene in the preseason and made several impressive plays, generating some buzz for what his future had in store. Despite that, he ended his rookie campaign with just 171 total yards and a single touchdown. Thompson entered year two with lower expectations and struggled to make an impact early on.
Heading into Week 17, Thompson received offensive snaps in just four of the Chiefs' 15 previous games. A fumble in Week 3 against the Baltimore Ravens didn't help his case for more playing time, then a midseason acquisition of Le'Veon Bell buried him further down the depth chart. As first-round rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Darrel Williams and Bell shared carries, Thompson was the odd man out until Sunday.
With Bell active but not receiving reps and Williams taking the field with the offense just four times, Thompson received the biggest opportunity of his career. He certainly made the most of it, carrying the ball 14 times for 45 yards and also hauling in seven passes for 65 yards. He scored both on the ground and through the air, doubling his 2019 touchdown total in a single game. Thompson knows he worked hard and was ready for this moment — it was just a matter of getting the chance to show it.
"It's opportunity meeting preparation," Thompson said after the game. "It was time for me to grow, and then I just needed an opportunity. This was an opportunity, and I took advantage of it."
It's been a long several months for Thompson, both on and off the field. In addition to the Chiefs adding talent at his position both before and during the season, his junior college football coach, Gerald Howse, passed away a few months ago. After the game, Thompson said he can still feel the support from his former coach and has used it as motivation to be great and inspire those looking up to him to do the same.
"I never stopped believing in myself," Thompson said. "I look myself in the mirror every morning. I've got a whiteboard with all my goals for myself. They say, 'Finish 2020 out strong. Come into 2021 dominant.' I recreated my identity, and I just know my coach is watching over me."
Many view Week 17 games filled with backups as meaningless. There were no more records to be broken, no star players to watch and no seeding to be decided. The Chiefs had already clinched a first-round bye, so why should anyone care about the game? It's what leads up to a game day that makes the contest worth following.
Thompson and his journey are reasons to care. He experienced hardship in both his personal and professional life, never lost faith and came out on the other end of it all as focused as ever. When his number is called again, he aims to be ready. Even after the final whistle blew on Sunday, Thompson made a statement that will resonate with many who heard his message: patience pays off, even when you can't know when to expect it.