Rookie running back Darwin Thompson brings versatility, chiseled physique to Chiefs

Darwin Thompson isn’t completely in shape.

At least that’s what he said Sunday afternoon.

The 5-foot-8, 200-pound running back admits that while he’s in good physical condition from predraft workouts, he’s not quite back in football shape just yet.

“Getting back in football is really different from training,” Thompson said before the second day of the Chiefs’ rookie minicamp. “I’ve been training for pro day and stuff like that, but getting back into football shape is a lot harder.”

His chiseled physical appearance, though, doesn’t suggest that at all.

Thompson, one of the Chiefs’ sixth-round draft picks from Utah State, has been described as “rocked up” and a “bodybuilder” by both coach Andy Reid and general manager Brett Veach.

Thompson laughs when he’s asked just how he got so built.

“Man, my junior year of high school, a kid told me I would be a running back, I was too slow, not big enough and things like that,” he said. “After that year, it never left me.

“Everybody always asks me how I got my (trapezius muscles). It was just that one year of high school, I just went crazy on the traps, and they never left.”

As a smaller running back, Thompson recognizes that what he lacks in stature, he can make up for in the weight room. Through intensive weight training, Thompson built a strong core and lower body that helps him maintain contact balance.

That much has been on display through his first two days at rookie minicamp, where he’s bounced off defenders and streaked up the field. Granted, neither team is wearing pads or tackling, but Thompson still showed flashes of his speed, shiftiness and ability to run through contact in the practices.

“Alvin Kamara, you do some of the things he does as far as training and the core work he does,” Thompson said. “It starts in the weight room, and eventually you’ve got to translate it onto the field.”

It certainly did that in his lone season at Utah State, where he racked up 1,044 yards on 6.8 yards per carry and scored 14 rushing touchdowns. But Thompson was far more than just a running back. He also averaged 15.3 yards per catch, amassing 351 yards on 23 receptions.

“What we saw we sure liked,” Reid said of Thompson’s film from Utah State. “Quickness, he’s not real tall but he’s put together, rocked up pretty good. He’s got great quickness in him. One of those guys that his center of gravity, he can move around very low and quick and he’s got good hands.”

But Thompson wasn’t always such a well-rounded playmaker. Coming up through Jenks High School in Tulsa, Thompson admits he was singularly focused on being the next great Oklahoma running back, following in the footsteps of backs like Adrian Peterson and Demarco Murray.

It wasn’t until he took a detour through junior college at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M that he changed his attitude and became a more well-rounded player. Not only did he catch passes, but he also got some action in the return game.

“In high school, I was that stubborn kid that just believed I was a running back,” he said. “I didn’t want to play defense. I played defense, but I just wanted to be a running back … I think over time as I sat back and humbled myself and realized I can play anywhere on the field, I need to play everywhere on the field. Once you get to this level, you’re going to have to play some special teams. I just, I pride myself in that.”

Thompson’s journey to this level isn’t quite like those of his idols in Peterson and Murray.

But that’s OK with him.

While the naysayers from his junior year at Jenks fueled his bulked up physique on his journey to the NFL, a different group of people is pushing him on the path ahead.

“I feel like I don’t do it so much for the people that doubt me but more for the people that are inspired by me,” he said. “It’s much more than just about me now. I’ve got kids that look up to me from my city, and I’m happy to represent.”

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Brooke Pryor covers the Kansas City Chiefs for the Kansas City Star, where she works to give readers a deeper understanding of the franchise and the NFL through daily stories, game coverage, and player profiles. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and grew up in Winston-Salem, N.C.