Given his dominant high school career and impressive skill set, it's no surprise running back Racean Thomas ranks among the most coveted players at his position in the 2014 class. The 5'11", 195-pound prospect, who hails from Oxford, Ala., received scholarship offers from throughout the nation.
Thomas opted to commit to Auburn in August, ending a whirlwind recruiting process that produced interest from practically the entire SEC. He selected the Tigers over offers from Alabama, Florida, Arkansas, Georgia, LSU, Tennessee and Ole Miss, among others.
The Oxford High School standout is a sensational playmaker, posting the statistics to prove it. Thomas tallied 3,304 total rushing yards and 44 touchdowns during his sophomore and junior seasons, according to 247Sports.
He is listed as the nation's No. 4 running back prospect in 247Sports' composite rankings. Thomas is a composite 5-star prospect.
Let's go beyond the numbers and break down his style of play in an effort to understand what makes him one if the country's premier players and how Thomas' game projects at the collegiate level.
|Size||5'11", 195 pounds|
|Ranking||No. 4 RB, No. 34 overall prospect, No. 2 player in Alabama|
|Key Offers||Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Florida, Clemson, Miami, Oregon, USC, UCLA, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Tennessee, California, Louisville|
|Commitment||Auburn (Aug. 2, 2013)|
Thomas passes the eyeball test before you press play on his game tape. His physical frame is college-ready, and he won't show up at Auburn undersized.
He runs with authority, embracing his physicality as a between-the-tackles workhorse. Although he has the lateral quickness to evade tacklers, Thomas often embraces contact.
He finishes carries with forward movement. Those extra yards add up quickly during the course of a game.
More often than not, he's the one who emerges on the right side of a collision. Thomas puts in the effort to protect the football and lower his pad level at the point of attack, as seen in the video-still below.
He plowed through that defender to reach the end zone.
Thomas is a tough back to tackle. His legs churn relentlessly, and he does an outstanding job of implementing his upper body, flashing stiff arms and violent shoulder thrusts without sacrificing ball security.
While it's fun to watch Thomas use brute force en route to big plays, he's far from a one-dimensional running back. A nasty spin move is perhaps his best asset, and he uses it several times per contest.
It's an escape mechanism for Thomas, who looks like a magician at times with the number of would-be tacklers he makes miss. In the video-still below, he appears bottled up in the backfield for a significant loss.
Instead, Thomas evades the initial tackler, shifts gears and bursts toward the near side of the field on his way to a scintillating 25-yard score.
Thomas isn't incredibly fast, but he has enough speed to challenge the secondary while sprinting down the sidelines. His approach at the second and third level is defined by excellent vision.
Thomas takes advantage of defenders who use poor angles. He's shifty enough to leave them lying in his wake.
The blend of power and evasiveness sets Thomas apart from the pack.
Thomas' spin move is incredibly effective at the high school level, but it could become a double-edged sword in college. He must be careful not to overuse the technique, because collegiate defenders take a much more technical approach at the point of contact and won't miss nearly as often.
The momentum created from spinning can put the football in a vulnerable position, liable to pop out with a proper hit at his midsection. The move is perfect in small quantities, but it must serve as more of a surprise factor than a staple for Thomas at the next level.
It doesn't appear that pass-catching comes naturally to Thomas. He doesn't attack the ball at its highest point and tends to slow down slightly upon initially gaining possession on a reception.
He could contribute in the slot at the next level, but that transition will take time. Right now, he's no more than an adequate weapon in the passing game beyond the flat.
Thomas is ready to take on his cluster of carries as a freshman. Auburn also holds a commitment from 3-star running back Kamryn Pettway (Prattville, Ala.), but Thomas is better suited to garner early attention because of a more polished rushing style and overall talent level.
Auburn loves to pound the ball on the ground early and often. That's unquestionably been the Tigers' approach this season, as the team has four players with at least 375 rushing yards (including quarterback Nick Marshall).
The team's busy backfield attack features three juniors—Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant). Each player averages at least 5.8 yards per carry.
Running back is a crowded position at Auburn, but expect Thomas to work his way into the rotation. His early development could require some seasoning during the second half of blowout games.
By his sophomore season, Thomas will be in line to compete for the role of feature back with a strong training camp. If he proves to be reliable in short yardage situations and demonstrates quality ball security, the coaching staff could be willing to turn him loose on opponents prior to 2015.