Three years ago on the night of the July supplemental draft, Jalen Thompson spent the occasion with his dad and two brothers, awaiting his name to be called.
The former Washington State safety was uncertain he would even be drafted and if so, the Indianapolis Colts would be his destination. Both turned out to be untrue when the Cardinals selected Thompson in the fifth round.
Thompson cried with his family, embracing the life-changing moment, and surprised his mother — at work — with a phone call to explain the news.
It has turned into a significant moment for the Cardinals as well.
“It’s an incredible story,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “To get drafted like he did, come in that late and go right to training camp and emerge as one of the better players on the team, it’s been tremendous. You watch his work ethic and preparation day in and day out, and he is one of the best open-field tacklers in the league. He’s just been a tremendous help for our defense.”
Thompson had his best season as a pro last year, leading the defense in total tackles (121) after injuries limited him to five games in 2020. Meanwhile, fellow safety Budda Baker turned in another Pro Bowl campaign in 2021, his fourth selection in five seasons.
Thompson said he never feels overshadowed by Baker; they have a strong relationship where Thompson often visits Baker’s house for ping pong battles. On the field, though, Baker wants Thompson to raise his game to another level in 2022.
“He helps me out every year,” Thompson said. “That’s my brother. He says both safeties should be in the Pro Bowl this year.”
By taking the next step, Thompson wants to make more plays on the ball, make more tackles, and become a leader of the defense. Kingsbury also said he could see Thompson and Baker, maybe the best safety tandem in the league, help cover the slot if needed.
More importantly, Thompson wants to become a more vocal figure. That’s one thing Thompson has learned from Baker.
“When I first got here, we had guys like D.J. Swearinger and other guys in his role now.” Thompson said. “When those guys left, (Budda) took that big step forward and made himself vocal. People on the team look at that; they respect that. That’s what I’m looking to do.”
Unlike many of his teammates, Thompson won’t have to fight for a spot on the 53-man roster or a higher place on the depth chart. But that hasn’t changed his mindset. He believes thinking that way will hinder his growth process.
“No job is secure,” Thompson said. “I go in (every workout) thinking the next guy is trying to take my spot. This is my profession and I take this seriously. I’m just trying to help the team (win).”