Every year over 200 players are selected in the NFL Draft. Each one of them has a unique story to tell and many of them have incredible stories that prove above all else, determination and hard work will get you where it is you want to go. It is determination and hard work that has got Darwin Thompson, one of the most explosive RBs in the 2019 NFL Draft, to the where he is today. Overlooked at every level, Darwin has overcome being counted out by ‘experts’ before and knows what it takes to beat the odds. This is the story of Darwin’s Path To The Draft.
High School & JUCO
Coming out of High School, Thompson did not receive a single division one offer. He didn’t even receive a division two or NAIA offer. During his high school days, Darwin was listed at 5’8”, 165lbs and he described himself at the time as an “average player with average grades.” In fact, Darwin wasn’t even a starter in high school. Despite the setbacks Thompson believes his high school experience taught him a valuable lesson, it made him “hungry to get better all around. It humbled me.”
He would end up enrolling at NEO A&M, a JUCO in Oklahoma known for producing FBS talent. In two years at NEO, Darwin impressed on the field earning a three-star rating from recruiting services and a handful of division one offers that had eluded him coming out of high school. However, it was off the field that Thompson experienced the most growth. After struggling with grades in high school, he graduated from NEO in two years, meaning he had at least two more years of eligibility left to transfer to an FBS school.
The success Darwin has in the future can be traced back to his time at NEO. He said it was at NEO that he “matured mentally and physically. I became a better leader, but I lead by let’s walk together on this journey, not I’m better than you come get on this level. My thought process changed at NEO, as it all was on me now. You’ll only get out, what you put in.” His time at JUCO shaped him to be the player and the man he is today. Ultimately, his work paid off and he accepted a scholarship at Utah State.
Darwin said of all the schools that offered him, he felt Utah State gave him the best chance to develop as a player, student and as a person. Going into his first season at the division one level, Darwin said his goals were simple, “dominate everything from the weight room to the field.” He had a vision for the season, not just for himself but for the team, that included rushing for over 1200 yards, scoring 15 TDs, winning the Mountain West and leaving his mark on the program.
In his first game at the division one level, Darwin scored two touchdowns in the Aggies opener against Michigan State. Having been counted out as a high school recruit and taking the JUCO route to get to college football’s top level, Darwin said it was a great feeling to score his first TD. He’d been counted out numerous times along the way, but just as he had already done in his young career, he proved everyone that doubted him wrong.
Darwin built on his opening performance as an Aggie and strung together solid performances against New Mexico State and Tennessee Tech. However, there still wasn’t a great deal of draft buzz surrounding the 5’8” running back. It wasn’t until a string of dominant performances towards the backend of the season that Darwin began to generate draft chatter. He rushed for over 140 yards and 3 TDs against both Hawaii and San Jose St, but said he still hadn’t thought about making the jump to the NFL early.
After Utah State’s bowl win over North Texas, Darwin declared for the 2019 NFL Draft after just one season at the division one level. When I asked him about his decision to forgo his senior year he said, “God put it on my heart once the season ended.” Making the jump to the NFL meant Darwin could realize his “lifelong dream” of playing in the NFL. After sacrificing so much to get to that position, he had earned the chance to play at the next level.
After Utah State
Since leaving Utah State, Darwin has been training for the combine at EXOS, one of the best pre draft training facilities in the country. “They say this is where the fast get faster, and that’s why I chose EXOS.” His workout partners at EXOS include D.K. Metcalf (certified tank), A.J. Brown and Deebo Samuel. As you would imagine, EXOS breeds a highly competitive atmosphere, “it’s a competition in anything and everything and I love it.”
At EXOS Darwin is not only crafting in the weight room, but working to become a more complete running back. A dynamic, shifty back who can contribute as a receiver, it is easy to typecast Darwin into a scat back mold. However, his contact balance and incredible lower body strength suggest he can be more than that. If he can round out a few edges, he can be a highly productive player in the NFL.
Many of Darwin’s peers at EXOS recently received invites to the NFL combine. When the list of combine invites was announced, Darwin was not amongst them. Being doubted, counted out and overcoming being overlooked is something Darwin has proven accustomed to. At the high school level and the college level Darwin has proven those who doubted him wrong. Now, at the beginning of his NFL career, he is already getting looked over. This is nothing Darwin hasn’t overcome already in his career though, “the doubt still lives and I’m forever ready to prove them wrong. It’s God’s plan. Nothing has changed, I’ve always had to prove my worth.”
Without the combine to showcase his talent, Darwin will have to wait until Utah State’s Pro Day to participate in drills in front of NFL scouts and decision makers. Darwin told me he is expecting to run the 40 in the 4.4 second range, put up 30+ reps on the bench press and record a 40+ inch vertical jump. Those are elite numbers for a running back and add further confusion as to why Darwin wasn’t invited to participate in the premier draft showcase.
What’s Next For Darwin
Wherever Darwin gets drafted, there is one thing that is certain, he will work his absolute tail off to see the field. He has proven time after time that when he is doubted, he thrives. I am confident that Darwin will carve out a role on an NFL roster right away. When asked about his goals at the next level, he said: “My goals are to compete for and win a Super Bowl, become one of the top if not the best running back in the NFL, and to wear a gold jacket when it’s all over.” With the talent, determination and ambition Darwin possesses, I wouldn’t want to bet against him.
Everyone here at NFL Draft Geek would like to thank Darwin for his time and wish him the best of luck at the next level!