Cardinals’ Jalen Thompson Provides Security at Back End of Defense

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Cardinals safety Jalen Thompson is an excellent tackler and rarely misses when runners are in the open field.

There were some eyebrows raised Wednesday when Cardinals safety and special-teams standout Chris Banjo was asked for his evaluation of fellow safety Jalen Thompson.

That particular question came after the 31-year-old Banjo said he has been pleased to see “some of the young guys grow. Progress has been really, really fun and it’s encouraging to see what the future is going to be like here.

“I think that the winning is a byproduct of everybody growing, maturing, and just being real intentional in our day-to-day process.”

Thompson was selected in the fifth round of the supplemental draft in 2019 and showed steady progress during his rookie season when he started nine games. He opened the 2020 season as a starter, but suffered an ankle injury in the first game against the San Francisco 49ers, an issue that limited him to playing only five games all season.

After eight games this season, the security blanket in the back end rarely misses tackles and is second on the team behind linebacker Jordan Hicks with 54. Hicks has 56, while linebacker Isaiah Simmons has 52. Thompson’s 37 solo stops leads the team and is one more than Hicks and four more than Simmons.

Arizona Cardinals safety Jalen Thompson (34) during training camp at State Farm Stadium.

So, what was it that Banjo said about Thompson when asked about his progress?

“Great; tremendous progress,” Banjo said. “I would say Jalen is probably one of the most, if not the most underrated defensive player in the NFL. You would think he played all of last season, the progress that he’s made, the strides that he’s made, and you can tell he’s still progressing. So it’s been fun to watch him, talk to him, converse with him just about ball, about life, about everything. So I’m extremely excited to see what he’s going to continue to do.”

Open-field tackling is one of the most difficult tasks for safeties, but Thompson thrives on it.

“It is a tough road, but my job as a post safety is to get the ball down,” Thompson said. “So anybody that breaks free or gets loose, that’s my job. So I take pride in that and I try to do it to the best of my ability.”

He surely does.

Said defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, “It’s rare to see a safety that can tackle so efficiently in the open field, because most guys miss some of those tackles. He rarely misses tackles. He can get the best backs in football on the ground when they pop. From his rookie year to now, Saquon Barkley, (Christian) McCaffrey. All those guys pop for big runs; he got them down one on one, even the big guy (Derrick Henry) Week 1 in Tennessee.”

Joseph previously reflected to the time when Thompson came to the team in the summer of 2019.

“When we drafted Jalen in that (supplemental) sub draft, the first day we met Jalen was the first day of training camp,” Joseph said. “So we didn’t even know the kid. He showed up as an undersized, very quiet unassuming guy and he grew into a player about Week 10 that season. We saw it in practice. The recoverability, the contact violence he plays with. That’s rare stuff for a little guy with the coverage ability of a nickel and that’s what he brings to the table.

“He can walk over slots whoever they are and play leverage and play man to man. It’s fun to watch him grow into his body. He’s about 185, 190 now. He was like 175 when we drafted him. So he is definitely coming along. And he has it all. He can cover, he can run and hit and his football IQ is growing every day.”

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