Nearly half of that production came in the final five games of the season. A year later, his numbers weren't that much more impressive (56 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, six sacks), yet he went from being an unheralded backup to an All-American.
Clemson's Brandon Thompson appears capable of following a similar path.
A little taller and just as quick off the snap as Nevis, Thompson quietly emerged as one of the nation's most disruptive defensive tackles in all of college football over the second half of the 2010 season. A disproportionate 43 of his 56 tackles last season came in the final seven games of the year. Thompson also recorded 6.5 tackles for loss and recorded a sack -- similar numbers to the ones that led to Nevis' breakout senior campaign.
Unlike Nevis, Thompson entered his junior campaign having already earned himself a spot in the starting rotation. Also unlike Nevis, Thompson enters his senior campaign having lost two very key linemates (Da'Quan Bowers, Jarvis Jenkins) to the NFL. If Thompson is going to take the next step in production, he'll do so with opposing offensive lines having already identified him as their primary concern.
Don't let Thompson's lack of tackles behind the line of scrimmage fool you. Often, it was his disruptiveness that forced ball-carriers into the waiting arms of Bowers and Jenkins. Some of the combined 35 tackles for loss those two racked up last year could instead get credited in 2011 to Thompson.
If history repeats itself and Thompson, like Nevis, emerges as a All-American caliber difference-maker in the middle, this Tiger could join those three others as a Top 100 prospect.
Pass Rush: Arguably his best skill due to an extraordinary burst off the snap. Explodes out of his stance, demonstrating a burst upfield to slip gaps and the lateral agility once past the line of line of scrimmage to chase down the quarterback. Inconsistent use of hands. Flashes quick hands to slap away blocks, but too often gets caught in the in the hand-fighting at the line of scrimmage, rather than quickly disengaging. Uses a swim move occasionally, though is only marginally effective with it. May be limited with this technique due to short arms. Good upper body strength and leg drive for the bull rush.
Run Defense: Penetrates through gaps, often forcing running backs to elude him or the back end of the offensive lineman he's pushing before they even reach the line of scrimmage. Inconsistent in his ability to separate from blocks, however, making him more of a nuisance than a snap-to-snap terror. Good anchor to hold up at the point, though he does not possess the bulk or lower body strength to hold up to double teams. Good effort pursuing laterally. Quick feet and good balance to slide down the line and possessing the burst to slip through gaps.
Explosion: Pops off tape due to his explosive first few steps. While powerful, doesn't rock the guard/center back with his upper body strength or explode into tackles.
Strength: Good weight-room strength, which translates onto the football field in terms of his anchor. Isn't able to consistently shed blocks and makes plays in the hole. Good strength for the drag down tackle.
Tackling: Can make the impressive chest to chest bear hug tackle in the hole due to his ability to wreak havoc in the backfield. Good strength, though his marginal arm length limits his ability to grab hold of ball-carriers as they run by. Willing to lay out and shows good hand-eye coordination to trip up ball-carriers.
Intangibles: Nicknamed "Yams" because of his huge thighs, which aid in his role as a run-stuffer. Won the Strength Training Award among Clemson defensive tackles in the spring of 2010. Tied for third on the team with a 425 pound bench press. Lifted 225 pounds 30 times for Clemson coaches. A pre-Business major who earned a spot on the Honor Roll in the spring of 2010."
Displays good ball awareness, is routinely one of the first lineman moving off the snap, and keeps his pad level down into contact, uncoiling an explosive snap through the hips into contact. Possesses the initial explosion to overwhelm on contact, gains leverage, can get his head under the face mask of opposing blockers and run his legs through contact.
Doesn’t do a great job extending his arms into contact off the ball, but demonstrates good hand placement when engaged and has the upper body strength to simply overwhelm on contact. Is a linear athlete who will struggle to break down on ball carriers at times, especially when engaged.
Looks a bit tight hipped and isn’t real sudden when trying to shed blocks vs. the run game. Possesses the power to simply rag doll opposing blockers, but isn’t real compact or quick when trying to stack and shed. Nevertheless, he’s a bear to move inside, can anchor vs. the double and is tough to move.
Works hard in pursuit as well, has a solid motor with good range off his frame for his size when chasing the ball off his frame. However, he’ll at times get a bit upright initially off the ball and drops his head into contact, is strong enough to hold the point of attack still, but can be sealed from the action with ease.
Is a developing pass rusher. Struggled to keep his pad level down off the ball when trying to shoot gaps. Also, his pad level takes away from his initial burst and power through contact. Exhibits the natural strength to still fight his way through contact, but is a linear athlete who doesn’t have any kind of sudden/change of direction move off his initial rush.
Can push the pocket on his bull rush, but again isn’t real sudden when trying to disengage and work his way toward the quarterback. Doesn’t have the dynamic explosive lateral quickness and despite his violent hands (at times), isn’t real quick/compact when trying to shed.
Impression: A guy who should be able to come in and be a lineman who can win inside vs. the run game. Looks a bit limited as a pass rusher who will be able to push the pocket, but is better suited as a one-gap guy who doesn’t need to be as effective with his pads off the ball. Nevertheless, a starting caliber 43 nose inside."
Is difficult to engage, as he shows quick, active hands and is strong-handed to stack and shed.
Energetic big man who redirects well for a 300-pounder, hustles in pursuit and is a heavy tackler.
Can play with more consistent pad level and is not a natural pass rusher but has starter-caliber length, athletic ability and play strength to fit inside a 4-3 or as a 3-4 five-technique."
He combines that size with a good first step that allows him to explode into the offensive line. His ability to create a good initial jolt helps him get inside hand position and drive the offensive lineman into the backfield. Thompson does a great job of disrupting the offense by getting a great push off the line. He possesses a good motor which always makes him a threat to make a play.
The biggest concerns about Thompson is his ability to make plays away from his frame. He does a good job of working his way to the ball and being disruptive but doesn't make enough tackles. In order for Thompson to be considered a good 3 technique prospect he needs to show the ability to penetrate the gaps.
Overall, Thompson has some good upside and a solid season could have him in the discussion for a day 2 selection. Thompson could help his draft stock by making more plays on the ball and creating a bit of a media buzz.
Bold Statement: Thompson will have a Nick Fairley type of breakout season and be considered a late 1st round selection
Games Viewed: Florida State ('10), Maryland ('10), South Florida ('10), Boston College ('10)
- Thompson has nice size and bulk with good weight distribution
- He fires off the ball keeping his pad level low and maintaining leverage
- His ability to quickly get his hands inside the lineman allows him to create a push on the pocket
- Thompson delivers a nice initial jolt helping him drive back the lineman
- He applies pressure because of his leverage and strength
- Thompson prefers to lock on and drive rather than shoot the gap
- However, his quick first step means that he is capable to penetrating through a gap
- He needs to improve his ability to disengage and make plays away from his frame
- Thompson doesn't have elite quickness which will limit his sack potential"
Can hold his ground when double-teamed, but can also jump a gap and get upfield; decent athlete for a 310-pounder who is quick off the snap, but doesn’t change direction all that well and lacks much in the way of lateral agility and range;
Had an impressive 56 tackles in 2010 including 7.5 for loss; still primarily a mauling bull rusher who isn’t very polished technically."
Good first step, explodes out of his stance, extends his arms to engage the blocker and deliver a jolt and establish hand position, plays with good leverage, gets a good push at the line of scrimmage, can slip gaps, spends a lot of time in the backfield... Quick, active hands and good length, can be difficult to engage, shows stack and shed ability...
Very solid anchor, powerful base, good upper body strength, 36 bench reps of 225 lbs. prior to 2011 season, nicknamed "Yams" because of his big thighs that help him plug the middle of the Tiger defense...
Space eater, can occupy blockers and free up others around him to make plays, tough to move, lack of dominant tackles and TFL numbers are nothing to worry about as Thompson often disrupted plays forcing ball carriers to Da'Quan Bowers, Jarvis Jenkins or Andre Branch, among others; knows his assignments and sticks with them, maintains gap responsibilities...
Good balance to play the piano and slide down the line... Good motor, plays with a lot of energy, hustles to make plays in pursuit... Good fit in a one gap system... Has very good upside, exceeded all expectations this season, merits first round consideration, can take over games... A three-year starter on a very talented Clemson defensive line...
Might also get some looks as a 3-4 DE (5-technique).
Negatives -- Is limited and still developing as a pass rusher, has just 4.5 career sacks, primarily a bull rusher who can push the pocket, but lacks much of an arsenal of pass rush moves... Bit of a straight line athlete who lacks suddenness and lacks change of direction moves off his initial rush...
Plays a little upright at times, doesn't always coil up and will expose himself to down blocks... Loses stamina as the game moves on, tires too easily... Best fits, but not limited to, a 4-3 scheme."
Thompson looks and plays like a one gap tackle and is a prospect with a terrific upside."
He generally runs around 5.0 in the 40-yard dash and has been clocked as fast as 4.92 from that distance.
The Thomasville, GA native is explosive off the ball with a quick first set and he can cause havoc in the trenches.
Thompson is far from a stat machine, but he draws double-teams from opposing offensive lines and manages to disrupt plays on a consistent basis.
In the NFL, Thompson could play either in a 4-3 scheme or line up at nose tackle in a 3-4."