Penn State

How Eagles rookie WR DeAndre Thompkins learned he had blazing speed

How Eagles rookie WR DeAndre Thompkins learned he had blazing speed

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. 

Supposedly?

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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Shareef Miller not taking status as role model to Philly kids lightly

Shareef Miller not taking status as role model to Philly kids lightly

As far as inspirational inner city-to-the-NFL stories go, Shareef Miller’s meets all the typical criteria. 

He’s from a rough neighborhood, was raised in a single-parent household and suffered unfathomable loss at the hands of violence. As inspirational as his story is, it’s not all that uncommon in the NFL. He’s not even the only player in the Eagles’ locker room with a similar backstory. 

This difference is that Miller is from here. He’s ours. 

And now, after getting drafted by the Eagles — a moment he said was “surreal” — he feels an obligation to not just produce on the football field, but to also be an inspiration to kids who grew up where he grew up and who face the same struggles daily that he was able to overcome. 

“That’s really going to help my community,” Miller said on Saturday. “It’s really going to change a lot of things. It’s going to give these kids someone to look up to. That’s what it’s all about. I’m happy I’ve been put in this situation so I can shed light on the younger kids coming up in this generation.”

Miller, whom the Eagles drafted with the last pick in the fourth round on Friday, grew up in the Frankford section of the city. He went to Frankford High before transferring to George Washington High, a decision orchestrated by his mother that he said “changed his life.” 

But just before he went to Penn State, Miller’s older brother, Mikal, was shot and killed in 2015. The loss of his role model hit Miller hard. Hard enough that he even considered not going to Penn State. But his mother, Tekeya Cook, has been his rock. According to Miller, she kept him level-headed and pointed in the right direction. 

Mom is such a rock that during their celebration on Saturday — Miller and his family rented a loft in northeast Philly to watch the draft — she told her son that it’s now time to get to work. 

Miller will be on the field at the NovaCare Complex soon enough for rookie minicamp and then OTAs, but his work as a role model is already well underway. First, kids from his old neighborhood saw him go to a Division I school, but now they’re going to see him play in the NFL about 15 minutes away from their homes. 

Miller isn’t taking his role as an inspiration and mentor to local kids lightly. 

I’m definitely excited for this role because I’m all about these young kids in the inner city. A lot of times in our city, the opportunity is small and a lot of us don’t have anyone to look up to and we don’t have any hope. That’s why it’s easy for kids in the inner city to [turn to] violence. Now they have me – someone who came from where they came from. 

What more can they ask for? I’m going to be that voice for them and, you know, when I get myself together and situated, I’m definitely going to go back in my community and do whatever I can to help these kids reach their full potential. Go to school, get a great education, go to college and live out that dream. Whether it’s the NFL, NBA or whatever they want to be.

It can be tough for a professional athlete to play in their home city. There’s extra pressure and there’s a natural trap of falling in with the wrong people. A few years ago, when I profiled Brandon Graham, he told me one of the biggest realizations in his life was that when he went back to Detroit, he just couldn’t hang out with the same people like he used to. It’s tough, but he had to cut some destructive people out of his life. 

That might not be easy for Miller, who is just 22. But that process already started when he transferred high schools many years ago. He said he has a small group of people in his support system, people who want the best for him. 

Miller doesn’t think playing in his hometown will be a distraction. If anything, he sees it as a huge positive. There are a bunch of kids who are growing up just like him who will likely agree. 

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2019 NFL draft: Eagles take Penn State RB Miles Sanders at No. 53 overall

2019 NFL draft: Eagles take Penn State RB Miles Sanders at No. 53 overall

The Eagles just drafted their first feature back in a decade. 

They used the 53rd overall pick to draft running back Miles Sanders (5-11, 211) out of Penn State. He’s an intriguing prospect who can become a true three-down back in the NFL. 

For a while now, the Eagles showed a lot of interest in Sanders. They met with him at the combine and then brought him in to the NovaCare Complex for a lengthy visit in March during the pre-draft process as a local visit. They tried to sneak him in without using a top-30 visit on him. Duce Staley really liked Sanders. 

Sanders is the first running back the Eagles have taken in the first two rounds since they drafted LeSean McCoy in the second round out of Pittsburgh in 2009. Shady was also taken with the 53rd pick. The Eagles had taken a few running backs in the last decade, but the highest pick they used on one was a fourth-rounder on Donnel Pumphrey. 

Here are the six running backs taken between Shady and Sanders: 

2017: Donnel Pumphrey, 4th round
2016: Wendell Smallwood, 5th round
2012: Bryce Brown, 7th round
2011: Dion Lewis, 5th round
2011: Stanley Havili, 7th round
2010: Charles Scott, 6th round

The 53rd pick was acquired in last year’s trade out of the first round with the Ravens. The Eagles followed up the pick at 53 by taking Stanford WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside out of Stanford with their own second-round pick, No. 57. 

Because Sanders sat behind Saquon Barkley for the first two years at Penn State, he doesn’t have a ton of mileage on him (see story).

What did Sanders learn from that time? 

“Just being more patient, being more mature on and off the field,” Sanders said at the combine. “Just going through that whole process, not being too frustrated, going through that adversity.”

When Sanders finally got his chance to shine, he made it count. Sanders had 220 carries for 1,649 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also caught 24 passes for 139 yards. 

“I showed my ability to break tackles,” Sanders said in Indy. “That’s what Saquon did really well. I showed I can catch the ball smoothly, blocking, not making mental errors and protecting the quarterback.”

Not only did Sanders have a productive junior season, he also crushed the combine. He ran a 4.49 in the 40-yard dash and his 3-cone drill time of 6.89 was the best among all running backs in Indianapolis. 

Coming to Philadelphia, Sanders will join a running back room that includes Jordan Howard, Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood and Boston Scott. Howard is a former Pro Bowler, but is under contract for just one more season. It seems like Sanders can grow into a starter and possibly even a feature back role. 

The last Penn State player taken by the Eagles was RB Tony Hunt in the third round back in 2007. Hopefully, Sanders has a much better career here than him. 

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