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Potential Bills Free Agent: LB Chaun Thompson

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Thompson: bust or a misused talent? (ViewImages)

We'll take a break from our look at the rookie class (don't worry, we'll get back to that later today) to continue breaking down available free agents that could potentially be good fits in a Buffalo Bills uniform. With the Bills possibly looking to upgrade depth at outside linebacker, y'all asked me to look into Browns free agent LB Chaun Thompson.

Thompson, who was a surprise second-round draft pick of the Browns in the Butch Davis era, has failed to meet his lofty draft status with solid play. Though he's had his moments of athletic brilliance, Thompson has not been able to consistently crack the lineup for the Browns. Some feel that he's been playing out of position in Cleveland's 3-4 defense; others believe that he just doesn't have the football smarts to get it done at the NFL level.

Dawgs By Nature's Take
I asked Chris Pokorny, head blogger at Dawgs By Nature, a few questions about what he's seen out of Thompson in his time as a Browns blogger. His answers, surprisingly, weren't overly discouraging, and leave me believing Thompson would be a nice depth/special teams option for the Bills who would have some nice blitz potential. Here's how Chris broke it down:

Thompson was a surprise second-round pick of the Browns in 2003, and hasn't lived up to expectations. What do you believe has been the cause of this?

Indeed, it was a big surprise when Thompson was drafted by former head coach Butch Davis. Because the pick was such a surprise though, I don't think it's fair to say he didn't live up to his expectations. After all, it's not Thompson's fault that Davis took him in the second-round instead of the fifth-round (and I'm not just saying that because of his lack of production -- no one thought Thompson would dare be picked as high as he was). Thompson's biggest asset was his speed. Unfortunately, he never seemed to have the football "smarts" to be where he needed to be on any given play.

Despite being a relative disappointment, Thompson had a couple of pretty productive seasons in 2004 and 2005. Did a change in defensive philosophy limit his effectiveness the last couple of years?

The 2005 season was Thompson's best year in which he had 84 tackles, 5 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. The 2005 season was also Romeo Crennel's first year as our head coach, and the year that the defense switched to the 3-4 scheme. When Crennel came in, some of the mistakes from the Butch Davis era, including defensive linemen Gerard Warren and Courtney Brown, were let go. We couldn't get rid of everyone though, and thus left Thompson in as one of our 3-4 linebackers because he was our only option. In the 2006 season, the Browns drafted speed rushing linebacker Kamerion Wimbley in the first round, drafted D'Qwell Jackson in the second round as an inside linebacker, and signed veteran linebacker Willie McGinest. Thompson was never considered great in 2005, so all three of these additions turned Thompson into a backup.

What are Thompson's strengths and weaknesses as a player? Is there a particular defensive scheme you believe he could be successful in?

Weaknesses? Counting on him as an every down linebacker, especially when defending the run. Strengths? His ability to come in as a backup and use his speed to chase after the opposing quarterback. Thompson is not a complete scrub either - in the pre-season, he'll absolutely dominate against second- and third-stringers. I was a little disappointed that the Browns didn't use him more often this past season on long third-down plays. Most of his playing time came when one or more of our linebackers were injured.

Discussion Time
Clearly, it's not a perfect fit. If we're asking Thompson to replace Keith Ellison in the starting lineup, it ain't happening. Thompson isn't a perfect fit in a Cover-2 scheme, either. What he does bring is a high degree of athleticism, something that our reserve linebackers have never had much of. He's got great speed and he can get after the passer in some situations; if the Bills can mask his run game deficiencies by using him on passing downs and on special teams, Thompson could be viewed as an important depth signing who brings some speed and athleticism to the table.

What do y'all think? A potentially good signing for overall depth, or a player we should avoid until we address the need for a starter first? Let's hear it, folks.

Browns LB Chaun Thompson
Year G Tk Sk INT FF FR
2003 16 11 0 0 0 0
2004 16 65 3 0 0 0
2005 16 84 5 0 2 0
2006 16 32 2 0 0 0
2007 16 21 1 0 0 0
TOT 80 213 11 0 2 0