Watching De’Anthony Thomas tote the football is the most exciting thing to watch on television. In time, he will be hearing his name called in New York City on the first day of the NFL draft.
Thomas is absolutely menacing to coaching staffs and defenses who take the field against him. Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez went as far as insisting Thomas was ready for the NFL (per Anthony Gimino of tucsoncitizen.com) and should leave before the Wildcats’ upcoming Top-25 matchup against Thomas’ third-ranked Oregon Ducks.
There is no doubt that Thomas is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, home run threats in college football today.
When he decides to declare for the NFL draft in 2014 or 2015, there will be the inevitable questions about his size and durability. Despite that, here are five reasons the 5’9”, 173-pound Heisman hopeful is worth a first-round draft pick.
De’Anthony Thomas has more of it than just about anybody.
There are a lot of great sprinters in college football today (Texas’ Marquise Goodwin comes immediately to mind), but watching Thomas with the football is something different.
With a confirmed 40 time of 4.38 and an unverified 4.29 (I’ll lean towards the latter), it is obvious that Thomas can run. However, watching him on film shows the audience something else: ridiculous football speed.
The Pac-12 Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year’s performance against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl showed scouts, coaches and players all they needed to see: two carries for 155 yards and two touchdowns.
On the defensive side of the ball, pursuit angles are almost as important as good tackling. DAT makes taking the right angle almost impossible. He simply outruns defenders, and it is almost effortless when he does.
You can’t hit what you can’t touch, and you can’t touch what you can’t catch.Defenders have gotten used to seeing the No. 6 on the back of his jersey.
Not only does Thomas boast world-class speed, but the “Black Momba” is as shifty as, well, a black mamba.
When DAT is running the rock, there is no wasted movement. It is almost as if he has watched the defense before he even touches the ball, then finds the most efficient way to the end zone. He moves laterally only as much as he needs to get north and south and to the painted grass.
He also changes direction while maintaining his 4.3 speed. When Thomas puts his foot in the ground, he is gone.
If spectators have any questions about De’Anthony Thomas’ ability to change directions, just put on the tape or simply ask Washington State safety Tyree Toomer.
How often do close games come down to the third and most overlooked phase of the game? Offenses and defenses get all of the glory and attention, but the special teams unit is a dynamic and quick way to change the momentum and outcome of a game.
De’Anthony Thomas is a monster on special teams.
During his freshman season, Thomas put the country on notice: Do not kick the football to No. 6. The All-Pac-12 kick returner racked up 983 yards with an average of 27.3 yards per attempt.
He also returned two for touchdowns, one of which was a 96-yarder against USC that kept Oregon in the game. Though they lost on a last-second missed field goal, Thomas' effort on special teams allowed Oregon the shot to tie the game.
Special teams coaches have obviously caught on. Thomas, though he has lined up deep while Chip Kelly plays his starters, has yet to register a kickoff return this season. Opposing coaches have chosen to give Oregon’s hurry-up offense great field position rather than give the hardest man to tackle in the open field a chance to touch the football in space.
In 2011, he only returned three punts for 52 yards, though one of them was a 48-yarder against Missouri State. Thomas also has a 48-yard punt return this season. He has seen his reps increase at the position of late as head coach Chip Kelly searches for ways to get Thomas the ball.
Thomas can line up in the backfield. He can line up in the slot. He can split out to wide receiver, and as we have already mentioned, the Black Momba can strike from both return spots.
Obviously, Thomas is listed as a running back, and the stress he can put on a defense from that position is hazardous to a defensive coordinator’s health. He has the speed to get the edge, but Thomas is not limited to being a burner. He has also shown flashes of an ability to run between the tackles and run through arm tackles (as seen in the :30 mark of this video).
Thomas is a weapon in the passing game as well.
He has great hands out of the backfield, and he is also an apt route-runner. Though he hasn’t been asked to run anything close to a complete route tree at Oregon, he has the quickness necessary to run effective routes, get out of his breaks, and separate. He can also flat-out fly by defenders vertically.
Just take a look at Thomas’ statistics at Oregon thus far:
2011 freshman year:
- 55 carries, 595 yards and seven touchdowns
- 46 receptions, 605 yards and nine touchdowns
- 1035 total return yards and two touchdowns
2012 sophomore year (three games in):
- 13 carries, 228 yards and four touchdowns
- 11 receptions, 154 yards and three touchdowns
- 93 punt return yards on seven attempts
These are the type of numbers that will earn Thomas the Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player. The more a player can do for a team, the more valuable he is.
The USC Trojans had recruited Thomas as a defensive back. He could probably play there as well. With a little coaching, Thomas has the athletic ability to play the position if a team found itself light in the secondary.
All of this equates to one thing: De’Anthony Thomas, Black Momba, DAT—whatever you want to call him—is the ultimate playmaker. He is a threat to hurt the defense from any place on the field. When he doesn't score, it almost feels like he sold the bleachers short.
Football is and always has been a physical game that is predicated on moving the chains to get into the end zone. Offenses can labor for 10-15 plays on some long drives before putting points on the board. This is precisely why having a player that can take it to the crib from any position, at any time is so valuable. This is what Thomas brings to a football team.
Of course, his defense may not always like the short rest they receive when Thomas touches the ball, but they will appreciate the six points.
Over his first season-and-a-fourth at Oregon, he has averaged over a first down a touch. He has 15 combined rushing and receiving touchdowns of over 25 yards in his career. In 2012, he is making a house call once every 3.5 times he touches the ball on offense.
It seems to be the easiest equation in college football—getting De’Anthony Thomas the football equals six points. Oregon just doesn't give him the pigskin enough. Borrowing the words of Keyshawn Johnson, just “give [him] the d**n ball.”
In light of Thomas’ skill set, his size is not as detrimental as one might think. He just needs the slightest bit of open grass to elude a defense and put six on the board.
Of course, it would benefit Thomas to put on some weight, which would alleviate some of the durability concerns. He also needs to solve his ball-handling issues. Despite these few red flags, he will be an impact player in the NFL and is worthy of being one of the first 32 selections when he decides to declare for the draft.