De'Anthony Thomas' Playmaking Ability Will Allow Star to Thrive in NFL

Steven CookFeatured Columnist IVFebruary 16, 2014

Oregon running back De'Anthony Thomas (6) during the first half of an NCAA football game against Arizona, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

De'Anthony Thomas may be the smallest player at his position in the 2014 draft class, but his top-notch speed and acceleration paired with a unique ability to manufacture home-run plays will allow him to succeed wherever he goes in the NFL.

Oregon's junior offensive weapon declared for the draft in January, ending a highly productive three years in Eugene, where he was one of the main featured products of the Chip-Kelly-turned-Mark-Helfrich high-paced offense. 

The former Ducks standout surpassed 800 combined yards via rushing and receiving in 2013, despite missing four games and injuries preventing him from surpassing 50 yards in two more.

That capped off a three-year career at Oregon, during which he notched 3,186 yards from scrimmage and a total of 5,305 yards if you were to include his kickoff and punt returns. 

Coming into Oregon as a prodigy-like prospect with a 5-star ranking as the nation's top all-purpose back, via 247Sports, expectations were high for Thomas, and he delivered. Immediately upon arrival, he was one of the fastest players on the field and quickly arose to fame thanks to two kickoff returns for touchdowns as a freshman.

Thomas hasn't been able to rise to the top of this year's class, however. B/R draft expert Matt Miller has him going 67th overall to the Raiders, a generous spot for whom he ranks as the ninth-best running back in the class.

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

There's no doubting Thomas faces a heap of difficulty at the position, however. As a running back, he's incredibly undersized—at just a hair over 170 pounds, he's the only one of Miller's top-24 running backs who is under 200 pounds, and by a sizable margin. 

Also, as a receiver, teams may not honor his ability fully because of his height. He's just 5'9" and can't run as many typical receiver routes as a 6'2" or 6'3" prospect.

That's where people are misled. Thomas' impact won't come through grabbing aerial balls, running slick routes down the field or catching jump-balls, skills that bigger wideouts will bring to NFL teams thanks to their more complete package.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Instead, Thomas will soon give one NFL team one of the fastest players in the league and a threat to go the distance on every play. He amassed 46 touchdowns at Oregon in just three years, so he's been known to get into the end zone at a high rate. 

Thomas has proven to be consistent in the running game as well, going up against some elite defenses in the Pac-12. Plus, Oregon's style of offense is becoming more prevalent in the NFL (i.e., Philadelphia, Seattle), and that could make him more valuable than he would have been three to four years ago.

Stars like Thomas don't typically have times in their career as a backup, but he wasn't up top in the pecking order in 2011, and that could bode well for his draft stock. Usually playing as a receiver as a freshman in 2011, Thomas caught nine touchdowns and amassed 605 yards through the air.

That sort of success as a backup proves that Thomas is likely to thrive, even if he has to be the fourth or fifth option in an offense and not get as many touches. Plus, the slot is likely where he'll have to thrive in the NFL given his size and skill set. 

Not many 5'9", 170-pound players are as tough as Thomas, which is why he made it to Oregon and was able to thrive there as one of the nation's top players. 

That toughness will allow him to use his world-class playmaking ability to make big plays for whoever drafts him while contributing to the offense as well.