With the NFL Scouting Combine approaching, De'Anthony Thomas will look to improve his mid-round draft stock and move up into one of the first two rounds. While it's unlikely he'll leapfrog enough running backs to be drafted in the first round, Thomas could sneak into the second with a strong showing at the combine.
He's too small to be a three-down runner as he stands at 5'9", 176 pounds, but his speed makes him a home run threat any time he touches the ball.
At the combine, Thomas will rely on his speed and the 40-yard dash to make his case as an early-rounder, and will undoubtedly post one of the best times of anyone in attendance. He's shown his ability to accelerate on the field on both kick returns and off-tackle runs, and it will be exciting to see exactly how fast he can run his 40.
Thomas will also have the positional drills in which to show off, especially the short shuttle and three-cone drill, which measure change-of-direction abilities. His speed and nifty feet will guide him through the obstacles and may be what sets him apart from some of these other runners.
The off-tackle reaction drill will also be an opportunity for Thomas to prove his worth as an NFL runner, as that drill is all about explosion.
If he can get a good burst through the bags, he could silence the concerns surrounding his durability. Granted, it's not the same as running through an offensive line with defenders swarming, but it is a tell of his toughness, burst and commitment through the hole.
NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock recently commended Thomas on his speed but still only sees him as a fourth-round pick (h/t oregonlive.com): "Because of his speed and playmaking ability, in today's NFL he's more valuable than he would have been six, eight, 10 years ago," said Mayock. "He probably goes in the fourth-round area."
With Thomas' game-changing speed, he is a lot more valuable to a team than a fourth-round pick. His ability to play as a situational back, returner and slot receiver makes him an offensive weapon similar to Denard Robinson or Dexter McCluster, and he will find a home before many people think.
Let's not forget that Thomas has a similar build and skill set to Tavon Austin, who was drafted No. 8 overall by the St. Louis Rams in last year's draft. There is a niche for these smaller, speedier players in the league, and Thomas could be really effective in the right system.
No one is looking at Thomas as their potential starting running back. Still, everyone wants to see his speed and quickness at the combine. If he can really "wow" the coaches and scouts in Indy, then it's not farfetched to think that he could be picked up by someone in the second round.
A couple of teams could take a flier on the former Duck come draft day, one of which is now run by his former college coach. Head coach Chip Kelly of the Philadelphia Eagles may choose to reunite with Thomas, and if anyone can come up with an effective way to use the speedster, it's Kelly.
The Oakland Raiders are another team who could use Thomas' speed in their lineup and may pull the trigger on him in the second round.
All in all, he's an intriguing prospect who has a lot to offer a team. Thomas will find a home in the NFL and will make his offensive coordinator very happy.