DeAndre Thompkins didn’t know he was fast.
He was wrong.
Because as the rookie put on his NFL uniform for the first time Friday afternoon, a day after he signed with the Eagles as an undrafted free agent, the one attribute Thompkins has undeniably is blazing-fast speed. So much so that when he ran an official 4.33 in the 40-yard dash at the Penn State pro day, Thompkins was actually disappointed. Leading up to the pro day, he claims he had been clocked in the 4.2s.
So has he always been fast?
“Supposedly,” he said.
My mother and father told me I was always fast. I always thought I was slow. I was always the smallest kid on the field. I was always playing with bigger guys, so I always thought I wasn’t fast. I was just too small for them to see me.
Thompkins, 23, said he didn’t learn about his speed until he went to a football camp at the University of North Carolina when he was 16 or 17. It was at that camp, where he competed against top competition, that he realized he was not just holding his own, but beating them.
Before then, Thompkins would run past people, but he just assumed he happened to be faster than the guy covering him. No big deal. It took that trip to put it in perspective.
“Maybe I might be fast,” Thompkins said, recalling his epiphany.
This time, he was right.
But at Penn State, Thompkins didn’t have staggering production. After redshirting in 2014, he caught 83 career passes for 1,245 yards, an average of 15.0 yards per catch. Though he did excel as a punt returner. He fielded 66 punts for 675 yards (10.2) and two touchdowns. If he has any chance of making the Eagles’ roster as an undrafted free agent, his ability as a punt returner will likely be why. The Eagles don’t have their return jobs solidified this spring.
As a receiver, Thompkins wants to prove he has more than just straight-line speed. He called himself a “route technician” who has the technique to go along with the speed.
But he knows his strength.
“At any moment, I could just run past anybody,” he said. “To always have that in your back pocket, not necessarily something to always lean on, because everybody is fast in the league, but just to have that in your back pocket when everything goes wrong, you just run fast.”
Even though he was disappointed by his 40 time at the PSU pro day, a 4.33 would have tied for third at the combine among receivers and tied for fifth among all players. He said not getting invited to the combine and not getting drafted will provide plenty of motivation for as long as his football career lasts.
When football does eventually end for Thompkins, he’ll probably be OK. According to his Penn State bio, he graduated in 2017 with a degree in psychology and is working toward a degree in criminology. He wants to pursue a career in neuropsychology.
With his speed, there’s no doubt he could get to his next career in a hurry. But as he spends this offseason with the Eagles, this is one time he wouldn’t mind taking things slow.
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