Is Chip Kelly Hurting De'Anthony Thomas' Heisman Hopes?

Michael Felder@InTheBleachersNational CFB Lead WriterSeptember 20, 2012

EUGENE, OR - SEPTEMBER 15:  De'Anthony Thomas #6 of the Oregon Ducks runs for a touchdown in the 1st quarter against the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles on September 15, 2012 at the Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

De'Anthony Thomas is a bona-fide Heisman front-runner in Week 3 of the season, and as long as the Oregon Ducks keep winning, he'll be in the spotlight with a shot to win come December. The touchdowns and the highlights are there, but the hybrid running back/wide receiver is still going to find some obstacles in taking home the hardware. 

Most notably, his position.

Look, Thomas is no slouch—through three games, the sophomore is averaging 158.3 yards per game, 2.3 touchdowns a game and doing it all on 10.3 touches per contest. Yes, folks, that's more than a 15-yard-per-touch average. If the season plays out as we've seen the first quarter get done, Thomas would finish with almost 1,900 yards and 28 touchdowns. 

Thomas is going to be in an interesting position because, unlike guys such as Reggie Bush and Mark Ingram, the explosive DAT gets his yardage from a more generous mix of receiving and rushing. Of his yards from scrimmage, 40 percent come from receptions; for his total yards, that number through three games is a massive 32 percent of his production.

No, it doesn't sound like a lot as the total number, but 1,900 would still rival that of guys such as Mark Ingram, two-time Heisman runner-up Darren McFadden, and one of last year's finalists, Trent Richardson. Unfortunately we need only to look at the recent history of the award to remember just how little credence is given to receivers grabbing the spotlight.

The last receiver to outright win the award was Desmond Howard in 1991. In the last decade, there have been nine top-10 Heisman finishes by wide receivers, but only Larry Fitzgerald in 2003 was a legitimate threat to win the award, finishing second. Outside of Fitzgerald, Justin Blackmon and Michael Crabtree's respective fifth-place finishes have been the best for a receiver this decade.

The other top-10 finishes include Mardy Gilyard (ninth) in 2009, Golden Tate (10th) in 2009, Dwayne Jarrett (ninth) in 2006, Calvin Johnson (10th) in 2006, Braylon Edwards (10th) in 2004 and Mike Williams (eighth) in 2003.

So, De'Anthony Thomas' Heisman hopes find him in a precarious position. On one hand, he'll have touchdown production to rival the folks in the running back department. On the other hand, he'll have a very generous split of his yardage devoted to receiving yards.

Certainly head coach Chip Kelly could transition the sophomore into more of a running back role, but why? That would further his Heisman hopes, but expose Thomas to more hits and limit his impact in the passing game. Limiting Thomas, for the sake of getting more running back touches, would be a fool's move; the kid is just too good.

Thomas is one of college football's most dynamic talents. He's a Reggie Bush-type player with a greater knack for stretching the field and exposing defenses in the pass game. Let's hope that the general bias we've seen toward receivers does not exist for the talented sophomore. If Oregon can keep winning, then DAT will find himself in the thick of the Heisman race come November.


As always, thanks to for the Heisman numbers.