Deionte Thompson allowed himself two-tenths of a second to cry.
After three years biding his time at Alabama, it was a storybook 2018 season for the rangy safety, as Thompson was named an All-American by finishing the year with 78 tackles, three forced fumbles and two interceptions.
That success was supposed to catapult him up NFL draft boards, but instead, medical concerns about his knee kept the projected second-round pick without a team through the first four rounds.
“There were 13 safeties picked before me,” Thompson said. “That’s something I’ll never forget.”
The Cardinals ended the excruciating wait by selecting him with the first pick in the fifth round, which is when Thompson let angry tears cascade down his cheeks for a fraction of a second.
And then, a completely different feeling washed over him.
“Damn,” Thompson thought as he picked up the Cardinals’ phone call, “my dream has come true.”
On Thursday afternoon, Thompson arrived at the Dignity Health Arizona Cardinals Training Center with a big smile on his face and a chip on his shoulder. If he does remain healthy, the team could have a draft day steal, as Thompson’s natural ability clearly out-rates his draft status.
While Budda Baker and D.J. Swearinger are the team’s starting safeties, there is an opening for the main backup at the position, which Thompson has the mentality to push for immediately.
“Playing at Alabama really helped me to compete every day, because if you’re not on your job every day there, there’s a guy right behind you that can take your spot,” Thompson said. “It’s no different in the NFL. Your spot can get taken just like that. I’m ready for that part of it.”
In the past few years, there have been numerous players whose draft stock was affected by medical concerns. Some couldn’t shake the injuries and had short careers, while others thrived.
General Manager Steve Keim said evaluating a player’s medical file can be as much of an inexact science as projecting how skills will translate.
“I can tell you a few guys that probably have put on gold jackets that I’ve scouted that I remember us failing them on the physical,” Keim said.
Myles Jack is a recent success story. The UCLA linebacker dropped from a projected top-5 pick in the 2016 draft to the second round due to knee concerns, but has been a standout for the Jaguars for three seasons without missing a game.
Thompson hopes to follow a similar path.
“Being able to go off that, it gives you hope,” Thompson said. “But my knee is fine. I’m ready to go right now. I’m just ready to get to work and put all that stuff behind me.”
Images of the 11 players selected by the Cardinals in this year's draft