Ever since I first laid eyes on DeAndre Thompkins' tape back when he was a recruit, all I saw was a game-breaker. I saw someone who was a threat to score every single time he touched the football. He lined up a running back, quarterback, wide receiver and kick returner, and was a force at every single one of them. That's why my choice for this year's breakout player in simple- it's DeAndre Thompkins.
Penn State's offense had an interesting piece last season in DaeSean Hamilton. They put him in the slot, split him out wide, gave him screen passes and everything else in between. He was their jack-of-all-trade on the offense, and it was fun to watch. Now imagine the same offense, with DaeSean Hamilton still there. But this time, add a player who did what Hamilton did last year, but who is even faster and even more versatile. That is what this 2015 team will be gaining with the addition of DeAndre Thompkins to the lineup.
His extreme athleticism and flexibility will allow John Donovan to move him to, literally, any position on the field (should the wildcat re-surface, expect Thompkins to be one of the men in charge of running it). Donovan could start him at running back and split him out wide. He could use him on the outside and drop him inside for a bubble screen. He could put him in motion and give him a direct snap or a reverse handoff. Whatever needs to happen to get the ball in his hands, will happen, because he has that much potential to change the course of a game.
The term "game changer" gets thrown around quite a bit in today's game, but Thompkins fits the bill better than most. Expect to see him burst onto the scene this season, and look for the staff to get him involved in the game early and often, particularly during the first few games of the season. Thompkins may not end 2015 as the statistical leader in the wide receiving corps (in fact, I can promise you he won't), but his impact will be felt all over the field.
Call it the Percy Harvin/Tavon Austin/Reggie Bush effect, or whichever player suits your style. There are just certain guys that defenses know they have to pay attention to, no matter where they are on the field. All it takes is one big play that showcases that special player's ability to make things happen when they have the ball, and the defensive coordinator has to alter his entire game plan.Thompkins is going to be that player for the Nittany Lions.
From the second Penn State runs onto the field in Columbus, Luke Fickell will know where Thompkins is. Mark Dantonio will spend some extra time with his defense talking about ways to prepare for Thompkins. Jim Harbaugh will be up late the night before the whiteout, laying in bed, khaki pajamas on, trying to think of a new and creative way to stop Thompkins.
DeAndre won't make every play, no one does. But you can be sure that he will affect every play that he is on the field for.