Looks Like University Of Illinois - Khmari Thompson

Jul 24, 2020

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I had this discussion with some friends who I golfed with last weekend. A football team with athletes who haven't played much football - that's a bad thing, right?

According to his bio on the Missouri website, Khmari Thompson didn't play football until his senior year of high school. He was a track star who was convinced to go out for football as a senior and showed enough ability that Missouri and Kansas State and Purdue offered him a scholarship. He chose Missouri, played in three games as a true freshman (redshirt rule), didn't play at all last year (knee injury), and is now transferring to Illinois.

So this is someone who has played in what - 13 football games? I just wrote that long post about how Florida and Georgia football recruits all have 10 years of running spread offenses and that gives them a huge advantage over kids who started playing football as 9th graders. Wouldn't that suggest that recruiting a kid with 13 games of experience is foolhardy? Let's talk about it.

We've seen Illinois teams lose both ways. We've seen an extremely talented team that didn't know how to play football go 3-9 (2009) and we've seen a team completely overwhelmed B/F/S-wise (Bigger/Faster/Stronger) go 2-9 (1996). In 2009, there were a dozen NFL players on the roster but zero cohesion. In 1996 we saw loads of experience (a team in Year Five of a head coach) but they were completely overwhelmed talent-wise.

That second one is the one Illini fans are probably most familiar with. Your cornerback simply isn't fast enough to stay with that 4.3 wide receiver. Your linebacker just doesn't have the lateral quickness to get to that edge before the ballcarrier turns it upfield. Your offensive tackle just doesn't have the footwork to stop that defensive end from getting around the edge. You're defensive tackle just doesn't have the low-man strength to hold off the onslaught from the OL in front of him. Measurables matter.

But so does football ability. BJ Bello was a quick-twitch linebacker who would catch your eye during conditioning drills but Mason Monheim was a much better college linebacker. Bello has even hopped from practice squad to practice squad in the NFL because that athleticism will always keep teams interested, but again, that didn't help much in college (which is why he transferred from Illinois to Illinois State). College football isn't just about measurables. You have to have instincts, and it took much longer for BJ Bello to develop those instincts than Mason Monheim. So Monheim played over Bello even though Bello could beat him in a footrace and then jump higher and maybe even bench more. Mason was a football player.

Wole Betiku is probably a good example of this. Watch him go through Pro Day and you think he's a first-rounder. All the size, all the speed, all the quickness. There's a reason he was a 5-star recruit. But he's still relatively new to football, and he doesn't have any true go-to pass rush moves (besides "I'm so much faster and stronger than you"), and so he went undrafted. Measureables matter, and if the Giants didn't take a chance on him as a UDFA, someone else would have, but you still have to have some film to back it up.

I say all of that to set up a discussion on Khmari Thompson. He of 13 total football games (or whatever). There's two ways to look at a recruit like this.

1. He's not going to fall into the "not fast enough to get behind the defense" category. He ran track at Missouri (best time in the 100m last year: 10.88). His bio on the Missouri website says they clocked him with a 4.3 40 yard dash. We've seen Illini teams in the past that just didn't have enough speed to hang with the big boys - with guys like Thompson, that won't be a problem.

2. Speed doesn't matter much if he can't create separation. Or run crisp routes. Or catch the ball and absorb a hit while hanging onto the ball. Or have the body control to get a foot inbounds. It's great that he won't be out-athleted, but a very steep learning curve remains.

A few weeks ago I talked about how St. Louis re-captured the state high school football-wise mostly because of an explosion of solid youth football programs. It's the reason for the massive surge of 4-star talent in the city. So when I look at a player like incoming freshman James Frenchie, who I believe was part of the Matthews-Dickey teams in St. Louis, I see a kid who has been learning everything about football since age 7.

Heh - I wasn't sure if Frenchie was a product of the Matthews-Dickey teams or the Herbert Hoover teams, so I googled and landed on this video. So there you go. James Frenchie, 10 years ago (age 8 I guess?), putting on a show. Those 10 years of football between then and now are really important (and part of what led to Frenchie being the highest rated player in our 2020 class).

For Thompson, he's a track guy with blazing speed who is trying to learn how to play football. So while he might be faster than every receiver on the Iowa roster, that won't matter much if the Iowa receivers know what they're doing and he's still trying to learn the game.

I hope this is making sense. I'm not dogging the guy. Heck, maybe he even played youth football and just skipped in high school to concentrate on track. I'm just saying that one year of high school football and then two years at Missouri with only three games played means he likely has a long way to go when it comes to the intricacies of playing wide receiver at a P5 school. But 4.3 speed is a whole lot better than 4.8 speed from a kid playing receiver since age 6.

I mean, I've probably said this in 20+ LLUOI posts by now, but Lovie simply lives for track kids. If he's going to err in one direction, it's going to be in the speed direction. This will not in any way be a slow team. (But it might have tiny linebackers who get tossed around and receivers who can only run fast in a straight line.)

I just re-read everything. This post is unfair. I should have made this point in a different post. This is supposed to be about Khmari Thompson and what he brings to the program.

Well, speed. High school film reminds me of Justin Hardee. Doesn't quite know what he's doing when running routes, but if he has the ball and he's already past you, he's gone. There's something to be said for that. Justin Hardee has taken his speed and is now entering his fourth year in the NFL. He just signed a one year deal for $1.5 million to stay with the Saints and be their punt team gunner again (plus kickoff coverage). After this year his career earnings in the NFL will be $3.2 million, all simply because he's incredibly fast.

So that's my comp here. Hardee had the same foot problems Mike Epstein has dealt with, so his Illinois career was limited, but once those foot problems cleared up, he's taken that speed to the Saints. Thompson had injury issues at Missouri as well, but hopefully those are cleared out of the way and he can find a way to use that speed in Champaign. I'm picturing something similar to what Hardee provided - deep threat when the defense needs to be stretched. Keep defenses honest by knowing you have that option.

Tom Cruises? I think I'll settle on two. This is a developmental project (once which Missouri apparently gave up on after two years), so have him sit out a year and then see what kind of production you can get in 2021 and 2022. If he's figured out how to use his speed by then, look out. If not, maybe he can find a Justin Hardee special teams role.

Khmari Thompson - Two Tom Cruises


Nashvegas Illini on July 24, 2020 @ 06:43 AM

Reading this reminds me of the movie the replacements. Put some stickem on his hands and tell him to run post route. Have QB worry about putting the ball on his hands.

But really. I like the roster construction. There are always misses and holes unless your O state or Alabama but like you said, we have talent that can compete with anyone if health. No Lovie just needs to coach it up.

uofi08 on July 24, 2020 @ 07:12 AM

I am having a little trouble figuring out what the staff's transfer strategy actually is. Nothing against this kid or any of the others, it's just not really making that much sense to me. I completely understand the transfers from last year. All extremely highly regarded prospects that simply got passed over at huge programs. There's a good chance you're going to find a contributor when you're grabbing former 4 and 5 stars from the bluebloods. I even understand the Miss State lineman. There's still plenty of time and eligibility left for that kid to continue to develop. I don't understand choosing unproven, lower ranked, inexperienced transfers. To me, transfers should be guys you are confident are going to be major contributors for their entire time at the program. If you're just taking chances on projects, get a high schooler (immediate eligibility if he surprises, 5 years to develop and/or try other positions).

Brave Illini on July 25, 2020 @ 09:43 AM

Don't think the post is unfair. I see it as providing insightful context for your assessment of this young man.

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