The New Orleans Saints have struck gold with undrafted talent out of the University of Tennessee in each of the last two years. Defensive tackle Shy Tuttle went undrafted in 2019 and had an immediate impact as a rookie. He’s had two sacks, ten QB pressures, an interception, and six tackles for loss in his first two seasons and will be an important part of the team’s interior rotation in 2021.
Wide receiver Marquez Callaway was added by New Orleans after the 2020 NFL Draft. Despite an offseason without preseason games and organized team workouts, he made the squad on the strength of an impressive training camp. Callaway had 21 receptions for 213 yards in eleven games of action as a rookie.
The 6’2” 204-Lb wideout could be the team's number two wideout opposite Michael Thomas this season.
New Orleans signed 11 players once the draft had concluded this season. Let’s have a closer look at one of them, a player hoping to become the latest Volunteer to succeed in New Orleans.
BRYCE THOMPSON, CORNERBACK (TENNESSEE)
Thompson came to Tennessee as a four-star recruit out of Dutch Fork High School in South Carolina. As a true freshman, he led the Volunteers with three interceptions and broke up four passes while adding four tackles for loss.
After serving a two-game team suspension to start the 2019 season, Thompson intercepted three passes, broke up four more, and had two tackles for loss among 32 total stops. Filling in at safety to start 2020, Thompson had two interceptions, broke up two passes, had two tackles for loss, and forced a fumble as a junior.
Tennessee recruited Thompson as a running back/receiver - thus, he is relatively inexperienced as a cornerback. That inexperience can show in man coverage and his play recognition. He tends to grab when he falls behind in man coverage, especially against deep patterns.
Thompson must improve his balance in man coverage, often getting turned around against shifty receivers. Too often, he gets caught guessing instead of anticipating. He needs to be more confident and physical in press duties to gain an early advantage in the route. He tends to sit back and let the play come to him in off coverage instead of looking to make a big play.
Despite his inexperience, that Thompson could make an impact early on shows good football IQ. Thompson exhibits fluid movement in zones and has the anticipation of putting himself in a position to make a play. He has a solid closing burst to the ball once thrown.
Thompson has the athleticism and fluid change-of-direction to be effective in man coverage. He has outstanding ball skills, evidenced by eight interceptions in 32 collegiate games. His instincts have greatly improved with experience.
Bryce Thompson is best suited as an off-the-ball cornerback in sub-packages initially. Like all late-round picks or undrafted prospects, he’ll have to show he can flourish on special teams while also making plays on defense to catch coaches' attention. He has the versatility to play either safety or slot corner. His athleticism, size, and natural coverage ability give him the potential to develop into a corner who can take on more prominent coverage responsibilities.