The Rise Of DeAndre Thompkins
Down 14 points early in the fourth quarter to Pitt, the wide receiver rises up and makes a circus one-handed snag to help cut the deficit to just seven points. A few weeks later, he hauls in a 53-yard reception in an overtime win over Minnesota. Just last week, he makes a stellar 70-yard touchdown catch to help pull away from Maryland in a 38-14 homecoming romp.
Without watching the games, you probably would’ve guessed the player in question was Chris Godwin. False. Well, maybe DaeSean Hamilton? Wrong again.
DeAndre Thompkins, a former four-star recruit out of Hubert, NC, has finally started to live up to the potential that Nittany Lion fans began placing on him since his arrival to the program prior to the 2014 season. A redshirt sophomore, Thompkins leads the team in receiving yardage with 328 yards despite being tied for third on the team in receptions. Averaging 18.2 yards per touch, Thompkins has transformed into quarterback Trace McSorley’s favorite downfield threat.
As a redshirt freshman in 2015, Thompkins came into the season with high expectations. He showed flashes of brilliance early on, returning a punt for 58 yards to set up a Penn State score on the first touch of his collegiate career against Buffalo, while adding a rushing touchdown against Rutgers the following weekend. Yet, he struggled with dropped passes and mishandled punts, and could only watch as his struggles opened the door for the likes of Godwin, Hamilton, and Saeed Blacknall, while being replaced as the team’s return man by Gregg Garrity.
This year, however, has fielded another chance for Thompkins to prove his skills to the Happy Valley faithful.
Following an injury to Blacknall early on in this season, Thompkins finally seized his chance against Pittsburgh, recording an immaculate one-handed catch along the sideline in addition to a huge fourth-and-16 reception that extended the game for the trailing Nittany Lions. He ended the game with 87 receiving yards, breaking his career high at the time (he set his career mark with 91 yards against Maryland) and hasn’t looked back since.
The wideout has split time playing in the slot and along the outside, and registered three catches or more in each game since the team’s 42-39 loss at Heinz Field in week two. Over the last two weeks, Thompkins has been especially prolific, registering 163 yards on eight receptions with a touchdown — good enough for a whopping average of a little more than 20 yards per grab.
“The way we practice, everybody has a role and everybody has to step up,” Thompkins said following the Pittsburgh game. “Its just plug and play. We treat everyone like they’re ones.”
With the usual suspects such as Godwin and running back Saquon Barkley returning from stellar 2015 campaigns, most fans were hoping and expecting McSorley and tight end Mike Gesicki to step up this season after the praise the tandem received from James Franklin this offseason. The rise of Thompkins has been surprising and well-timed for an offense that’s improved leaps and bounds from years past under the direction of new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead. With a showdown against No. 2 Ohio State looming next weekend, expect Thompkins to play a big role if the Nittany Lions are to pull off the unthinkable over the rival Buckeyes in Beaver Stadium.