LOGAN — Deven Thompkins is arguably the most dynamic offensive player Utah State has heading into the 2020-21 college football season.
The junior slot receiver was one of the Aggies’ best playmakers last year. He played in 12 games, started six and finished the year third on the team with 40 receptions for 536 yards. He averaged 13.4 yards per reception, 44.7 receiving yards per game and was tied for second on the team with four receiving touchdowns.
When the Aggies got the ball to Thompkins in space, he was electric, as evidenced by the 56-yard touchdown he scored against Wake Forest, the 45-yard score he had against Stony Brook, his 37-yarder against Colorado State and his 17-yard scoring scamper against Kent State.
There were times where Thompkins disappeared, though, and on those occasions the Aggies struggled. In the blowout loss to LSU, Thompkins, a native of Fort Myers, Florida, had just two receptions for 18 total yards. In USUs home loss to rival BYU, Thompkins again had only two receptions, this time for 10 yards.
The Aggies went as Thompkins did. In games where he had at least three receptions, Utah State went 5-2. In games where he didn’t, they were 1-4. When Thompkins had 40 or more receiving yards in a game, USU averaged 36.5 points per game. Anything less, and the Aggies scored less than two touchdowns per contest (12.5 ppg).
Figuring out how to best utilize Thompkins has become one of the most important questions facing the Aggies’ offense heading into fall camp.
“We have to see what kind of role DT (Thompkins) is going to play,” offensive coordinator Bodie Reeder said. “Obviously we have to solidify the quarterback position.” — Presumed starter Henry Colombi is battling challengers Andrew Peasley and Cooper Legas for the job — “We also have to figure out depth at running back. We lost a nice tight end last year (Caleb Repp) and we have to fill that void, and we have to replace (Siaosi) Mariner. But, we have to see what kind of role DT is going to play.”
The easy answer is slot receiver. Listed at 5-foot-7, 160 pounds, Thompkins is ideally suited for the position and it is where he had the most success in 2019. A new playbook, courtesy of Reeder, could lead to even greater production from Thompkins in that role this year. He believes so.
“Looking at the new playbook and the combinations of the routes, the play design is a lot more detailed and I believe that is going to help us out a lot,” Thompkins said. “Especially with the kind of receivers that we have, lengthy and fast receivers who can get downfield. I think this will be a great offense for us.”
With Jordan Nathan shifting to more of an outside receiver role, Thompkins would appear to have the slot receiver role mostly to himself, with a little help from Taylor Compton, but by all accounts, Reeder isn’t satisfied with having Thompkins play one position.
“We’ve had conversations about moving me around to different spots, including the backfield,” said Thompkins.
Towards the end of last season Thompkins carried the ball here and there — he had a 57-yard run against Kent State — but heavy involvement in the running game would be a departure from the norm. Thompkins has recorded only eight rushes in his career, for 107 yards.
Then there are special teams. In his two years in Logan, Thompkins has been a regular on special teams, whether as a punt returner or a gunner. Last season, he scored his first special teams touchdown as an Aggie, a 45-yard punt return against Stony Brook. If he has his way he’ll get even more of an opportunity this year.
“I enjoy (special teams) and I hope I’ll still play on them,” Thompkins said. “I’ll play as the gunner on punts too. As long as I am on the field that is all that matters.”
Odds are Reeder will find a way to get Thompkins involved in as many ways as he can. It is his philosophy.
“We want to take advantage of the guys that we have in the room,” Reeder said. “We want to play to the strengths of our offense. ... We’re going to make sure that we have different schemes that can attack the defense from sideline to sideline and vertically down the field.”
“It will be interesting to see how it all plays out,” added Thompkins.
To be better prepared for whatever he is asked to do, Thompkins’ focus this offseason has been on the mental side of things. He’s worked to be better when it comes to watching film and breaking down opponents. He believes an improved mindset led, in part, to his breakout campaign in 2019.
“My focus was a lot better (last year), better than it was my freshman year, for sure,” he said. “I was more in my playbook, I was asking a lot more questions and I was willing to learn. I think that helped a lot.”
So too did opportunity. Thompkins got a chance and made the most of it.
“I feel like I was given more of an opportunity this (past) year for sure. I was able to actually display my talent,” he said.
However the Aggies end up utilizing Thompkins this season, he believes he’ll make an impact. With the goals he has for himself, he has no other choice.
“I want to be one of the greatest to play the game,” he said. “That is my goal and that is what I am going to stick to.”