CINCINNATI -- Knee-deep in the long march to training camp, we're taking a look all this week at seven Cincinnati Bengals who could have breakout seasons in 2015.
Whether it's because of their young age, previous performance or other factors, these players haven't had a chance to become significant pieces of the Bengals' system -- until now. A couple ended up becoming regular contributors late last season, but they could become even bigger household names later this fall. Let's start tracking a few reasons why.
After exploring Darqueze Dennard's promise for a breakout year on Monday, Rex Burkhead's potential for an expanded role on Tuesday, Will Clarke's ability to possibly help a fledgling pass rush on Wednesday, the comparatively high climb AJ McCarron made up the depth chart on Thursday and Friday's piece on Jeremy Hill's push to break more tackles and be even more relevant this season, we focus next on:
Years in NFL: Three
When drafted: Third round (No. 93 overall), 2012
2014 stats: 21 tackles, 1.0 sack
Why he's poised to break out: If you've listened to Bengals coaches the last year or two, you know they have been relatively high on Thompson. To them, he has showed enough to start earning more and more playing time. A knee injury kept him out for five weeks last season, though, causing him to miss out on some opportunities. Once he returned from the injury, he continued to play well, reaffirming their belief that he can be a valued member of the defense if used correctly.
Namely, Thompson has to be used in run-defense situations. The 315-pounder isn't a pass-rush specialist by any means. Although as a backup he has 2.5 sacks the last two seasons, he's more of a run-stopping specialist. With Geno Atkins and defensive end Wallace Gilberry the featured interior rushers on pass plays, Thompson hasn't had much of a reason to be called upon during passing plays. Domata Peko also has been getting more overall snaps than Thompson at defensive tackle.
In need of evidence of how good Thompson has been in run-stop scenarios? Just consider the following numbers from last year.
When Thompson wasn't on the field, the Bengals surrendered an average 4.63 yards per carry to opposing running backs, according to ESPN Sports & Information. When he was in the game, the Bengals' defense held opposing rushers to a 3.13 rushing average.
The young defensive tackle hasn't really broken out yet because he's been the victim of a deep position group. In addition to Atkins and Peko, he has battled for playing time with Devon Still. This training camp, Pat Sims, Kwame Geathers, DeShawn Williams and Kalafitoni Pole also are competing for reps. Compared to the rest, though -- other than Atkins and Peko -- Thompson likely is a lock to make the roster.