De'Anthony Thomas' performance in the Oregon Ducks' opening game against Arkansas State firmly placed his name in the early Heisman Trophy conversation. Anyone who saw him Saturday night knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that his name belongs there.
Is there a better college football player in America right now? Maybe. Maybe not.
I was tempted to write an article before the season began, something along the lines of "Can DAT live up to the hype?" I'm so glad I didn't write that, because Thomas surpassed all the hype in the first five minutes of the first game.
The kid is flat-out good. But how good can he be over the course of his collegiate career?
As a freshman, Thomas racked up 2,235 total yards—rushing, receiving and returning. He also scored 18 touchdowns despite being used sparingly. For the record, Thomas also had one two-point conversion and one solo tackle (please try to not do that again, DAT.)
Eighteen TDs are considerable, especially for a freshman and especially on a team that had so many other weapons. To expect him to do it again or even surpass that lofty number is ambitious.
However, Thomas scored three touchdowns Saturday night, while only playing one-and-a-half quarters. At that rate, what is a reasonable number of touchdowns to expect from him over a 12-game regular season?
Is 36 (three per game for 12 games) too high? It sounds like a lot, but Thomas has such a nose for the end zone, and his three TDs last weekend seemed so effortless.
Is there anyone out there who doubts he can score at least twice a game the rest of the way? Nope—well, only that one USC fan with his hand up right now. So, let's say he scores two TDs in each of the next 11 games. That would give him a season total of 25.
Totally doable and, in fact, probably a low estimate.
It also is reasonable to expect that Thomas will surpass his freshman campaign's numbers in at least two of his three disciplines.
In 2011, Thomas rushed 55 times for 595 yards. Although he only rushed three times against Arkansas State, he will get considerably more touches once conference play starts and he's on the field more. Expect this stat to be close to 1,000 yards by the end of the regular season.
Thomas had 46 receptions for 605 yards last season. Last weekend, he had four catches for 55 yards. Do that every week,—and give me one good reason why he won't—and he beats last year's total.
The only category that's questionable as to whether he will improve this year is on kickoff return. The new rule that moves the kick from the 30 to the 35-yard line will reduce the number of returns, so it will simply be a case of what DAT does with the ones he gets to field.
Would you kick in his direction? Me neither.
Tom Mulhern, a beat reporter who covers the Badgers, had an excellent quote in The Oregonian when asked whether the Badgers were happy to be playing Oregon State this week instead of the Ducks. He said, "The Badgers are still trying to figure out a way to catch De'Anthony Thomas after the Rose Bowl."
The point is, no team seems to be able to stop Thomas from doing his thing, at least on a regular basis. It's not like opponents of the Ducks don't know what he's going to do. They study film, and there are plenty of highlight reels on this kid.
Speed kills—in more ways than one. I guess if they can't catch him, they can't tackle him. But you would think that somewhere, somehow, sometime, some coach will come up with a defense that will neutralize Thomas.
But we haven't seen it yet.
Don't you imagine that every morning De'Anthony Thomas wakes up and is grateful that he chose to play football for the Ducks?
The truth is that Oregon employs the perfect offensive scheme to suit Thomas' exceptional talents. The spread offense is the ideal foundation for him, and the innovative, creative Oregon coaches will place no limits on play-calling for Thomas.
How good can DAT be?
As good as he wants to be.