- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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One of the more enjoyable films to watch last offseason was that of Florida State running back Chris Thompson, a Redskins' fifth-round pick. He made defenders miss; he was exciting in the open field. If not for those injuries ...But Thompson entered the NFL with red flags over his durability. Still, that speed and potential -- coupled with Richard Crawford's season-ending knee injury -- led him to being the full-time returner when the season opened. But that only lasted four games. This is the latest in a week-long installment looking at all the Redskins' rookies.
Stats: Thompson averaged 5.1 yards on seven punt returns and 20.0 yards on eight kick returns. He did not play at all from scrimmage in his four games and eventually was placed on injured reserve for a torn labrum in his shoulder.
Highlight: Can’t say there was one during the season. His best play occurred during the preseason, a 69-yard punt return for a touchdown against Tampa Bay.
What I liked: How he progressed in the preseason, needing to learn how to be a punt returner and then fielding returns of 31 and 69 yards (the latter for a touchdown). He showed patience on the latter return, enabling him to read the field and go. Alas, that’s not what he showed during the regular season. He did improve at catching the ball on punt returns, looking rather awkward early in camp but doing an OK job in his four games during the season. He learned when not to field a ball (for the most part). I like Thompson’s speed, but it wasn’t always evident. There were flashes during the preseason of positives from scrimmage, though ball security was an issue. Still, he showed at times he could plant and cut and avoided big hits by burrowing through openings. It’s hard not to love his speed and potential ability in the open field. But that’s not always enough.
What I didn’t like: His durability (he’s 5-foot-7, 187 pounds). He hasn’t played a full season of football since 2010. That will be a major issue going forward and was a big one coming into the NFL. Also, when the regular season began, his inability to make the first defender miss on returns. That’s what a good returner does. In fairness, his blockers rarely helped him; Brandon Jenkins missed a block on one return in the opener that forced Niles Paul to pick up the defender. Had Paul not been forced to do so, he could have led Thompson around the end. Still, you rarely saw Thompson create room for himself or get more than what was available. At times he overestimated his speed to get through smaller openings, leading to short gains when he had a better shot getting wide. There were times he was not decisive on returns, causing stutter steps and missing opportunities to get, perhaps, 10 yards and instead gaining five. This one is a mixed reaction: He will take chances on some balls that others would not -- like jumping to field a ball that was about to bounce over his head at the 5-yard line in Oakland. Not a wise move because it likely would have gone into the end zone. He gained 11 yards on the return. But I remember after watching Kansas City punt returner Dexter McCluster and how some Redskins said what made him dangerous (in addition to talent) was his willingness to take chances that others would not. Thompson tried, a couple times, to adopt that mindset but nothing much happened.
Projection: His speed makes him intriguing but durability concerns prevent a lot of optimism. I’m still anxious to see him this summer to see what progress he’s made as a returner. Maybe he wasn't quite himself, coming off a torn ACL midway through the 2012 college season. Maybe his shoulder bothered him longer than realized. Still, those speak to the durability concerns. As a punt returner, he had a lot to learn, especially fielding punts. But I would not count on him because of other issues. You need to have alternatives and if he shows he can play, that’s great. Then you perhaps have something and that’s terrific. If not, you move on.