Can Panthers OLB Shaq Thompson build on exceptional Week 1 display?

(Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports) Shaq Thompson
(Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports) Shaq Thompson /

Shaq Thomspon turned in an exceptional performance against the New York Jets, but could the Carolina Panthers outside linebacker build on this moving forward?

To say Shaq Thompson‘s performance was just what the doctor ordered in Week 1 would be the biggest of understatements. The outside linebacker was instrumental for the Carolina Panthers in their convincing victory over the New York Jets, which could have been a riot had the offense made more of its first-half opportunities.

Thompson was a relentless force at the second level. He came up with big play after big play en route to a hugely influential display, something the Panthers will need plenty of moving forward in pursuit of some real progress in the second season under Matt Rhule.

This coincided with Thompson changing from No. 54 to his old college No. 7 – something that brought him an incredible amount of success at Washington. If this inspired him to arguably his finest ever performance in Carolina, it was a masterstroke.

It was a difficult 2020 season for Thompson. His first without the colossal presence of Luke Kuechly alongside him on the interior.

He did manage to go over 100 tackles for the second-straight year. But many were questioning just what future the former first-round pick had in Carolina given the huge pay increase coming his way.

The Panthers opted to restructure Thompson’s deal this offseason. Giving them a little more breathing space before his cap hit soars to more than $18 million in 2022.

Carolina has a big decision to make regarding Thompson next spring. One that could be even tougher if he keeps up this level of production throughout the campaign.

Carolina Panthers are counting on Shaq Thompson in 2021.

Thompson seemed to be everywhere on the field. A driving force on the Panthers’ electrifying defense that gave rookie quarterback Zach Wilson no end of trouble in his first competitive outing.

With 10 tackles, one interception, one sack, one quarterback hit, one sack, and two passes defended, Thomspon was sensational. If he keeps this up, Carolina’s prospects will be all the better for it.

The seven-year-pro will need to be at the top of his game once again this Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. Thompson and the linebacking corps will be tasked with trying to prevent running back Alvin Kamara from gaining substantial yards when he inevitably gets to the second level, which is another big-time challenge for this young group to overcome.

Thompson is one of the very few remaining Panthers players from their memorable Super Bowl run in 2015. Experience that he needs to put to good use in the weeks and months ahead.

Whether Thompson can keep up this level of production remains to be seen.

But it’s certainly a solid foundation from which to build.

The Panthers are counting on Thompson to set an example. To lead from the front and steer this talented unit in the right direction.

This was far better than anyone expected from Thompson. Having Jermaine Carter and Haason Reddick also causing havoc clearly rubbed off on him in a positive fashion.

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Thompson can look back on his Week 1 performance with an enormous sense of pride. But what comes next will be equally as important.