Panthers depth chart focus: Shaq Thompson leads new LB room

(Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports) Shaq Thompson
(Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports) Shaq Thompson /
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Carolina Panthers
(Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports) Shaq Thompson /

Shaq Thompson – Carolina Panthers OLB

The Carolina Panthers’ linebacker room will once again be led by seven-year veteran Shaq Thompson. Following Luke Kuechly’s retirement, he was named a captain and will surely retain it as the team prepares for 2022.

The dynamic, former multi-sport athlete out of the University of Washington is one of the longest-tenured players on this Panthers’ roster and has been a model of consistency throughout his stint with the team. He clearly has earned the respect of both the Ron Rivera and Matt Rhule regimes, and the franchise awarded him with a four-year extension worth $54.2 million towards the end of the 2019 campaign.

While Thompson hasn’t quite done enough to challenge for a spot on Carolina’s Mount Rushmore of linebacker play, he’s still one of the best players on the entire roster. The former first-round pick finished with 104 tackles a year ago, good for this third-consecutive season finishing with stops in the triple digits.

Considering Thompson is etched in as Carolina’s weakside backer, some of his most pertinent responsibilities pertain to pass defense. While this is one of the most difficult responsibilities, he has steadily improved this area of his game throughout his career.

Thompson recorded two interceptions and five passes defended in 2021. Both of which were career highs.

According to Pro Football Focus, Thompson graded out as the NFL’s 12th-best linebacker a season ago. His coverage grade of 74.7 was the sixth-best mark in the league.

So while Thompson may not be quite as dominant as the likes of Kuechly and Dan Morgan were, he’s pleasantly emerged as a franchise cornerstone.

Perhaps he finally breaks through and gets named to his first Pro Bowl this season. Even if not, you know what you’re getting with Thompson at this point.

And that is a productive, reliable football player.