Why Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas Is Best RB Threat to Win 2013 Heisman Trophy

Ian Berg@@ShugJordanPkwyCorrespondent IMay 24, 2013

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 03:  De'Anthony Thomas #6 of the Oregon Ducks returns the opening kickoff for a touchdown against the Kansas State Wildcats during the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 3, 2013 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The race for the Heisman Trophy is in full swing with athletic departments preparing campaigns for their potential stars and Vegas setting odds for the game's most illustrious award.

De’Anthony Thomas is the highest running back on the Heisman list from Bovada, and it’s tough to argue against his placement. Thomas is poised for a huge year and is the biggest threat for the Heisman at running back.

He is a unique talent for Oregon. There have been a lot of quality running backs that have passed through Eugene in the past few years, but Thomas is set to become the best to date.

One separator for Thomas is his all-purpose ability. He is a utility back that fills a number of roles for the offense. He lines up in the slot, runs downhill from the backfield and returns punts and kicks on special teams.

His impact is felt in every aspect of the Ducks program, making him the most important player to this team for 2013.

Marcus Mariota will be good, but Thomas is his safety valve.

Last fall, he rushed 92 times for 701 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also added 45 receptions, 445 receiving yards and five receiving touchdowns to his stat line.

As a returner, he returned 13 punts and 16 kickoffs, totaling 611 return yards and two touchdowns. His returns averaged 17 yards on punts and 24.3 yards on kickoffs.

The stats tell the story. He is the cornerstone of the offense and as a rising junior will be one of the most experienced players on offense.

With Kenjon Barner gone, Thomas will become the primary back. Barner put up 1,767 rushing yards last fall and rushed for 21 touchdowns.

He didn’t show the receiving ability of Thomas, and he lacked the return numbers.

With the all-purpose threat that Thomas brings as a returner, receiver and rusher, it’s easy to see why he is one of the favorites for the Heisman.

With a new coach driving the program, there will be a national spotlight focused on Eugene.

Can Mark Helfrich continue the success that Chip Kelly saw? Will the offense be the same?

If Thomas can step in and carry the offense as expected, the Heisman campaign will come naturally. The country will already be watching Oregon closely, and when Thomas shreds defenses in the process, voters will take notice.

Oregon has never produced a Heisman winner, but that has a real chance of changing this fall.

The program has seen a number of players get close, but none have brought the complete package approach that comes with Thomas.

It all starts on August 31 when Nicholls State comes to Eugene, but the next two weeks will be what determines his chance in the race. If big games come against Virginia and Tennessee, Thomas should start making plans for New York this December.