Can Keytaon Thompson Make Another Leap For UVA?

Virginia Keytaon Thompson
Keytaon Thompson posted 990 receiving yards last season for Virginia. ~ Photo courtesy of Matt Riley/Virginia Athletics Media Relations

Keytaon Thompson earned a nickname from the old Virginia football coaches that simultaneously highlighted and hid his ability. 

Bronco Mendenhall deemed him a football player and even listed that as his position on the depth chart. Thompson can line up anywhere and do almost anything. It made sense. From Mendenhall, the term carried the highest of praise. It was as much for how he went about his business as anything.

Yet, as it celebrated Thompson’s skill and earned him air time on every game broadcast, it also unintentionally hid one of the most impressive parts of his game in plain sight. Add in shadows created first by Lavel Davis Jr. and second by Dontayvion Wicks thanks to their eye-catching numbers and it was easy to miss.

Keytaon Thompson blossomed into a great receiver.

In 2021, the New Orleans native posted 78 catches for 990 yards and a touchdown. Yes, he rushed for 247 yards and 4 touchdowns too so the Swiss Army Knife, football player, Mr. Versatility thing still applies. But look at those receiving numbers again.

The 78 catches rank fourth all-time in a single season at Virginia behind only Olamide Zaccheaus twice and Billy McMullen once. The 990 yards sit sixth with Wicks the new record holder with 1,203 last season. Thompson posted 11 catches at Pittsburgh to tie for ninth on the school’s single-game record list. He had three games with 100+ receiving yards, matching the careers of guys like Frank Quayle, Hasise Dubois, Kevin Ogletree, and Harrison Davis to name a few.

The Pro Football Focus (PFF) data provides further insight. Thompson received an overall offensive grade of 85.5, but his receiver only duties are just as note-worthy. He tallied an 84.0 grade for receiving, putting him in “elite” territory. That ranked 29th nationally for the receiver position and 27th among those with at least 15 targets. 

The 84.0 grade led UVA and was third in the ACC for players with at least 15 targets. It trailed only Pittsburgh’s Jordan Addison (88.6) and Wake Forest’s Jaquarii Roberson (84.8) in the ACC. Everyone saw the Name-Image-Likeness (NIL) related stories around Addison this spring as he left Pitt.

Among those top 30 graded PFF receivers, Thompson tied for the third most contested catches with 14 (USC’s Drake London had 17, while Addison and Wyoming’s Isaiah Neyor had 15). Thompson also tied for the third most missed tackles forced after the reception with 22 (Michigan’s Skyy Moore forced 26, while Kentucky’s Jerreth Sterns and Purdue’s David Bell each forced 25).

That all adds up to less of a sidekick act like Robin to someone’s Batman and more like the Avengers. Wicks, Davis, and Billy Kemp IV all put up strong numbers too, but Thompson could headline his own story.

If Thompson makes another leap with his receiving skills this season, that won’t be a problem. The development from 2020 to 2021 proved massive.

The one-time Mississippi State quarterback went from 7 to 78 receptions, from 98 to 990 receiving yards, from 12 to 112 targets, and from a 54.3 receiving grade to an 84.0. He improved his yards after the catch, contested catch totals, missed tackles forced after reception, average depth of reception, and first down catches. 

This seems like a good time to remind fans that a lot of that improvement came despite missing last spring following a rib injury in the 2020 finale and playing with a hand cast for much of the 2021 campaign. He logged a full spring at Virginia for the first time (there was no spring practice when he transferred in 2020) as Tony Elliott and the new coaches came in for 2022.

What can