Studying philosophy does not often have a direct impact on the career of a football player.
For Taylor Thompson, though, it made a difference.
He thinks he is a tight end, therefore he is.
The Tennessee Titans traded away their seventh-round pick in order to move up 10 spots and draft Thompson in the fifth round Saturday, the final day of the 2012 NFL Draft. An all-conference — not to mention draft-worthy — defensive end at SMU, he declared as a tight end, a position he last played in high school.
“I started the draft [process] as a defensive end and then I had a lot of teams that wanted to draft me as a tight end,” Thompson said. “So I went that way. … Since I played defensive end for the past four years in college I kind of have the mindset of the opponent. That’s a huge thing in football — to understand the enemy.
“I have that athletic side to me that I can bring to the offense. I can really be an aggressive and athletic tight end.”
Over the final four rounds the Titans also took cornerback Clemson cornerback Coty Sensabaugh in the fourth (115th overall), Oklahoma State safety Markeele Martin in the sixth (190th overall) and Rice defensive end Scott Solomon with a pick in the seventh (211th overall) they acquired from Minnesota.
In order to move up and select Thompson, they swapped their fifth-round pick (155th overall) with Miami and gave the Dolphins their scheduled seventh-round selection (227th overall).
“We didn’t want to sit in the fifth round and maybe go with someone we weren’t as comfortable with,” coach Mike Munchak said. “We had a chance to lose him. We feel that he has a chance to … come in and make this football team. … We feel there are a lot of ways he can contribute and it’s not too often there is a chance to get a guy like this, especially in the fifth round.”
A three-year starter during his four-year career, he led SMU with seven sacks, made 41 tackles and forced six fumbles in 2011. Late in the season, though, he discussed his professional options and began to put in extra work catching passes and running routes.
Recruited out of Ponder (Tex.) High School as a tight end by the likes of Oklahoma State, Colorado State and Vanderbilt (he initially committed to Vanderbilt) he elected to stay close to home. After he committed, SMU hired June Jones who installed his spread offense, which rarely — if ever — utilizes a tight end.
By the end of his freshman season, Thompson was a starter at defensive end.
“Obviously there were questions because there is no film on me in college,” he said. “I’ve played obviously, as a tight end. I’ve had about 10 workouts as a tight end. I had the Pro Day as a tight end. It was, I think, just enough film on me to make me a prospect.”
He was one of eight available tight ends with a recorded 40-yard dash time of faster than 4.6 seconds, and offensive coordinator Chris Palmer raved about the size of Thompson’s hands.
Some considered him as high as a potential third-round pick at that defensive, but his coaches got him an invitation to the first Players All Star Classic in Little Rock, Ark., as a tight end. That’s where Titans scouts Blake Beddingfield and John Salge reconsidered their opinion of him.
“This is a player who was above the line as a defensive end prospect,” Salge said. “So, we knew we were dealing with a premier athlete from the beginning. I believe we saw enough during practice at the all-star game and during the pro day routes, running routes, sinking his hips, looking fluid/smooth, getting down the field. It comes naturally to him; you can see that.
“This is not like you are taking a defensive end and making him a tight end for the first time ever — it’s almost like he’s been playing it all along. “
Tight end, of course, is a position that has served as a star vehicle for some unlikely candidates. San Diego’s Antonio Gates was a college basketball player before he became a an eight-time Pro Bowler in the NFL. Jimmy Graham played only one year of college football but caught 99 passes for New Orleans last season, his second in the league.
“He was involved in their program there [at SMU] and to the kid’s credit, he stayed and played a position and exceled at being a defensive end,” Palmer said. “In his heart he wanted to be a tight end.”
Now he is.
• Sensabaugh is a second cousin to Dallas safety Gerald Sensabaugh, and the two grew up together
“Both are very bright football players and have very high football IQs,” secondary coach Brett Maxie, who coached Gerald Sensabaugh at Dallas, said. “They are students of the game. They are very humble and very good men.
“Gerald is an exceptional person, and talking to Coty, he reminded me of Gerald in that way. Very humble, very well spoken, very genuine, a good person, and football is important to him.”
• Martin started the final 37 games of his career but dealt with plenty of injuries along the way.
He sustained a torn meniscus in January, which required minor surgery and prevented him from conducting and pre-draft workouts until earlier this month. He missed spring practices in 2011 following shoulder surgery and had a hip injury in 2009.
“I can play through anything,” he said. “I’ve been banged up and played through it. … I show up and play. Regrdless of what injury I have, I want to go out and compete and give it 100 percent.”
• The Titans traded a sixth-round pick in 2013 to get back in the seventh round this year specifically to select Solomon, whose 24 career sacks tied him for Rice’s all-time lead.
“When I get on that field I work hard,” Solomon said. “I’m going to be relentless. I’m going to be tough out there and I feel like that’s where I make my bread and butter. And that’s where I find success.”