Coming out of high school, Darwin Thompson had zero Division I or Division II scholarship offers to play football.
Fast forward a few years later and the former Utah State running back will have the opportunity to compete for one of the best football teams in the world. That’s because Thompson was selected Saturday by reigning AFC West champion Kansas City in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL draft.
Thompson was the final pick in the sixth of seven rounds and the 214th player selected overall. The native of Jenks, Oklahoma, is the fifth former USU tailback to be taken in the NFL draft since 2012, joining Robert Turbin, Michael Smith, Kerwynn Williams and Devante Mays.
This marks the seventh time in the last nine years the Aggies have had at least one athlete drafted. Additionally, Thompson is the 122nd player in program history to be selected, including the 12th since 2011. Thompson is only the third Aggie ever drafted by the Chiefs, joining wide receiver/kickoff returner Kevin Robinson in 2008 and quarterback Bob Gagilano in 1981.
“CHIEFS KINGDOM thank you for believing in me!!,” Thompson posted on Twitter.
Former USU tight end Dax Raymond was projected to be selected in virtually every well-known mock draft, but ended up signing an undrafted free agent contract with the Chicago Bears. Other Aggies who inked undrafted free agent contracts as of early Saturday evening were safety and former Mountain Crest standout Gaje Ferguson (Chiefs), wide receiver Ron’quavion Tarver (Bears), safety/linebacker Jontrell Rocquemore (Cleveland Browns) and safety Aaron Wade (Browns).
Thompson shined in his only season in Cache Valley as he became the 18th athlete in program history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a single season, despite essentially splitting the carries with fellow tailback Gerold Bright. The muscular 5-foot-8, 200-pounder earned second-team All-Mountain West honors during the 2018 campaign.
Thompson elected to forgo his final year of eligibility and enter the ’19 NFL draft after rushing for 1,044 yards and 14 touchdowns as a junior at Utah State. The son of Rueben and Lashonne Thompson averaged an impressive 6.8 yards per carry, which was tops among all Mountain West competitors and 13th nationally.
Additionally, Thompson was also a threat catching the ball out of the backfield as he hauled in 23 receptions for 351 yards and two scores as a junior. Thompson, who rushed for more than 100 yards in five games, is the first Aggie since 2012 to eclipse the century mark in rushing and receiving in the same game — a feat he accomplished against San Jose State last November.
Thompson’s ability to catch the pigskin could definitely come in handy in Kansas City’s explosive offense. The Chiefs had three running backs finish the 2018 season with at least 20 receptions in Kareem Hunt, Damien Williams and Spencer Ware.
“He’s obviously a little bit undersized, but in terms of his twitch and his burst, he’s kind of a change-of-pace guy who can get out and make moves in space,” Kansas City scout Trey Koziol said of Thompson. “You know, he’s a big-play threat. He always was a big-play threat for them at Utah State. So it’s a little bit different than what we had, so it gives us a little bit different of a dimension in terms of the passing game and (gives us a guy) who can operate out in space.”
Kansas City record-breaking signal caller Patrick Mahomes threw for a whopping 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns last season, and nearly led the Chiefs to a victory over New England in the AFC championship game.
Hunt was the Chiefs’ top rusher in 2017 and ‘18, but is now with the Browns. Hunt racked up 2,151 yards on the ground during those two seasons.
Williams, Kansas City’s leading returning rusher, gained 256 yards and scored four times in 50 attempts last season.
The Chiefs did sign veteran tailback Carlos Hyde during the offseason, but he was limited by injuries and only rushed for 172 in 14 games during the two previous seasons. Hyde did amass 1,928 yards on the ground from 2016-17 for the San Francisco 49ers.
Thompson is the fifth of six players the Chiefs drafted this weekend. Kansas City also signed James Williams, a running back out of Washington State, to an undrafted free agent deal.
Prior to his time at USU, Thompson was a star at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M. The explosive leaper and power lifter was a second-team junior college All-American as a sophomore after rushing for 1,391 yards on 7.5 yards per attempt and eight TDs. He also accumulated 1,029 yards on the ground as a freshman.
Thompson, who gained 765 yards as an Aggie after contract according to Pro Football Focus, was one of 10 players from nine different Mountain West programs drafted this weekend. Hawaii had a pair of draft picks, including the first one highest pick from the conference this season in linebacker Jahlani Tavai, who was selected in the second round and 43rd overall by the Detroit Lions. Other athletes for the MW who were drafted were San Jose State’s Josh Oliver (tight end, third round, Jacksonville Jaguars); San Diego State’s Kahale Warring (TE, third round, Houston Texans); Boise State’s Alexander Mattison (RB, third round, Minnesota Vikings); Fresno State’s Keesan Johnson (WR, sixth round, Cardinals); Wyoming’s Marcus Epps (safety, sixth round, Vikings); Hawaii’s John Ursua (WR, sixth round, Seattle Seahawks); Colorado State’s Olabisi Johnson (WR, seventh round, Vikings); Air Force’s Austin Cutting (long snapper, seventh round, Vikings).
The University of Utah had five draft picks in safety Marquise Blair (second round, Seahawks), punter Mitch Wishnowsky (fourth round, 49ers), linebacker Cody Barton (third round, Seahawks), kicker Matt Gay (fifth round, Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and offensive tackle Jackson Barton (seventh round, Indianapolis Colts). Former BYU linebacker Sione Takitaki was taken in the third round by the Browns.