Arguably college football's most explosive player is taking his talents to Sundays. Oregon running back/offensive weapon De'Anthony Thomas announced his intention to forgo his senior season and enter the 2014 NFL draft on Sunday.
He released a statement via GoDucks.com:
I am officially withdrawing from the University of Oregon to pursue a professional career in the NFL. I want to express my deepest appreciation and thanks to the University and all of my teammates, coaches and fans. I look forward to staying connected to the University and visiting the sidelines as often as possible.
Ducks coach Mark Helfrich talked about Thomas' decision:
De'Anthony has been a spectacular talent in college football and has been a part of some of the most memorable plays in the history of the University of Oregon. We wish him success going forward with his career.
Thomas broke out in Eugene as a freshman under then-head coach Chip Kelly, lining up at both running back and slot receiver while also becoming a dynamic return man. While he was never used as a primary running back—he never even came close to leading the Ducks in carries—what made Thomas special was his ability to break the big play.
He averaged a touchdown every 9.23 carries at Oregon, and 2013 was the first regular season of his career without double-digit total touchdowns.
In fact, Thomas' decision to enter the draft comes after a somewhat disappointing junior season.
Amid preseason Heisman buzz, the 5'9" speedster broke out with consecutive 100-yard rushing performances and had accumulated 338 rushing yards and six touchdowns through three weeks. However, an ankle injury suffered against Tennessee on Sept. 14 kept him out for more than a month and he struggled to regain his form.
Thomas went through a midseason stretch where he had 31 rushing yards or fewer in three straight contests. While he finished the campaign with solid outings against Arizona and Oregon State, it was clear by the end of the season he'd been usurped on Mark Helfrich's depth chart.
He concluded the 2013 regular season with 581 yards and a 6.2 yards-per-carry average, both career lows. Freshman Thomas Tyner and sophomore Byron Marshall both ended the regular season with more carries and yards per attempt than Thomas.
Where would you draft De'Anthony Thomas?
That probably played at least a part in his decision to enter the draft early.
Although his diminutive size and lack of natural position could give some teams pause, the success of Darren Sproles, Danny Woodhead and others with a similar skill set could make Thomas appealing.
Still, there seems to be a fracturing of opinion about how elite a prospect he is. CBS Sports currently projects Thomas as a fifth- or sixth-round choice, while ESPN's Scouts Inc. has him No. 37 overall.
Teams will also have to decide during the draft process whether they prefer Thomas at running back or lining up more like Tavon Austin, who was taken No. 8 overall by the St. Louis Rams in 2013 despite similar size concerns.
Where Thomas falls in May will have a lot to do with his combine performance. Austin was able to rise from a fringe first-round pick by wowing scouts with his speed and agility—something Thomas will have to show to fall on the upper end of his projections.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: