The Oregon Ducks have one of the most explosive offenses in college football. So far this season, they've put up 184 points in three games and are ranked No. 2 in the AP polls. This is in large part due to a few offensive stars that look like legitimate NFL prospects.
It's hard not to run such an effective offense without talented stars. As a direct result, the Ducks get off a ton of plays and high point totals, but execution is obviously key.
It also helps when some of the team's best playmakers have the ability to rip off huge gains on both the ground and through the air.
New head coach Mike Helfrich (formerly the offensive coordinator) has done a great job of replacing Chip Kelly. The offense has transitioned seamlessly with him calling all the shots, and the Ducks are enjoying efficiency on offense.
If they keep this up, then they'll earn a prominent bowl game at the end of the season, and their best NFL prospects will be in line for selection on NFL draft day should they choose to forgo the rest of their college careers.
De'Anthony Thomas, RB
De'Anthony Thomas is perhaps the best NFL prospect on the Ducks, and his draft stock has skyrocketed after his early season success. Should he choose to forgo his senior season in 2014, Thomas could be drafted in the first round to a team in desperate need of help at running back.
Thomas has averaged eight yards per carry this season, racking up 338 yards on just 42 attempts. He also has three receptions for 58 yards, though his biggest impact has obviously been made running the ball.
After scoring 11 touchdowns on 701 yards last season, he stands to shatter both marks in 2013. Thomas has already rushed for six touchdowns.
Small in stature—he stands just 5'9"—Thomas is a human highlight reel. He threatens to break loose and make a huge play whenever he touches the football. This is something that fans of Oregon have witnessed first hand.
Thomas accelerates quickly and is capable of stopping on a dime. He can cut and change direction well, making him one of the most elusive runners in college football. 3
He can cut and accelerate like LeSean McCoy, and that's truly saying something.
He doesn't show a ton of power in between the tackles, but he uses the momentum he gains from his speed to break initial tacklers and pick up tough yardage up the middle.
If nothing else, Thomas should make an immediate impact in the NFL as a return man. The guy is simply too elusive to not be a successful kick or punt returner.
Marcus Mariota, QB
Scouts often discourage their teams from taking quarterbacks like Marcus Mariota, as they fear for both the player's longevity and effectiveness as a mobile quarterback that likes to tuck the ball and run.
Mariota is a machine, though, and he's made an impact through the air and on the ground. He has compiled 889 passing yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions while rushing 15 times for 262 yards and four touchdowns.
In three games, Mariota has accounted for 11 touchdowns by himself. If that's not talent, then I don't know what is.
Mariota is just a sophomore, but he definitely has NFL potential. He'll likely be one of the top quarterbacks taken in 2016 if he stays in Oregon through his senior season in an attempt to capture a national title. By that time, expect Mariota to have progressed even more as a passer.
At 6'4" and 212 pounds, he has the size scouts love to see in a quarterback. It allows him to see over the top of defenses and make strong throws above the surging defensive lineman. Plus, it gives him an edge in breaking tackles when running the ball.
His skill set and talent level are similar to that of Colin Kaepernick.
Both are large quarterbacks that can tuck the ball and run, as well as make big plays through the air. Kaepernick has seen early success in his career because of the lack of firepower Alex Smith provided the San Francisco 49ers, and Mariota could potentially do the same on a team not happy with their quarterback's play.
Josh Huff, WR
Josh Huff often gets overlooked in an offense headlined by Thomas and Mariota, but the senior wideout is a candidate to break out in his final season with the Ducks.
He has started off 2013 well, hauling in a touchdown among 14 catches and 298 yards. Last season, he led the Ducks in both touchdowns (7) and receiving yards (493).
While those numbers don't seem all that spectacular, it's important to keep in mind the type of offense the team runs. Wide receivers make an impact, but it's not often they're targeted for double-digit times per game. Mariota and Thomas can run the show on the ground.
Which Duck has the most NFL potential?
Huff is not imposing physically (5'11", 205 pounds) but he plays bigger than his size. He routinely makes tough grabs in traffic and is capable of pushing defenders away with a strong stiff arm. He displays excellent body control in the air and can fight defensive backs for the ball when it's up in the air.
The receiver will likely be a late-round commodity given his limited touches and problems with the law (he was found not guilty in both scenarios), but he has the potential to be a steal.
Huff is important to Oregon's success in the air in 2013, and NFL teams should look to him in the late rounds if they're looking for potential steals.