When you look at the Oregon Ducks' De'Anthony Thomas, look closely and quickly. He is slight in stature and can be gone in the blink of an eye.
Well, there is a new position in this high-octane, hurry-up, pass-happy league. It is called O.W.—short for "offensive weapon." Even if he won't be a full-time running back, Thomas, an early entrant as a junior, will be just that at the next level.
"Because of his speed and playmaking ability, in today's NFL, he's more valuable that he would have been six, eight, 10 years ago," renowned NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock told the paper.
An NFL scout added to Alger: "(Thomas) is an extremely explosive player, obviously. Size and durability will be his issues, but he would be a kick returner, punt returner and slot wide receiver/running back. He's pretty unique."
While Thomas might not improve his draft stock from the middle rounds at this scouting combine in Indianapolis, the quick, diminutive one is potentially four players rolled into one. With the NFL a game of special packages and specialists, Thomas can assume the role of four different players on an active NFL roster.
He can be a backup running back—a scat back in the mold of a David Meggett, if you can remember back that far in this league—a reserve receiver running out of the slot in three- or four-wide groups, your kick returner and you punt returner.
Some NFL rosters have four players filling those holes. Thomas can do it all himself, even if you wouldn't want to line him up at halfback and run him off tackle 15-plus times a game.
Bleacher Report's video compares him to the New Orleans Saints' Darren Sproles, but Sproles is shorter and a bit thicker. Kansas City Chiefs X-factor Dexter McCluster is a suitable size comparison. If you're looking at what position Thomas' size, weight and speed translate to, McCluster is a perfect example: O.W.
Mayock sees Thomas as an impact player in this league, but not in the traditional sense, as he told Alger:
(You) got to have a plan in place for how you use him. He's a kickoff guy, plus we got to get him 10 touches a game. How do we manufacture those eight to 10 touches a game so he can make those plays for us that he did at Oregon?
If you're looking at what Thomas can do as a rookie, look at the Arizona Cardinals' Andre Ellington. He came with a similar size knock against him, but he got his limited touches and still had a big impact on the game plan from week to week.
Ellington slipped into Round 5, despite Mayock rating him as one of his favorite running backs in last April's draft.
Thomas' workout Sunday is going to be all about his 40-yard dash time. He just might be the fastest player in this draft. Because of his lack of size, if he wants to improve his fourth- to sixth-round projection, as estimated by Alger, he might have to be.
Bleacher Report lists three special characteristics of Thomas' game you can see on film:
- He is a raw athlete with game-changing speed.
- He can get touches at running back, receiver and return man.
- He displays rare quickness, vision and athleticism.
The overall statistical production might not be elite, but he has been a game-breaker in the quick-strike, spread attack at Oregon:
|De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon, Rushing|
|YEAR||GAMES||RUSH ATT||RUSH YARDS||RUSH AVG||RUSH TD|
Don't merely turn off the tube after Thomas' 40-yard run either. He has work to do displaying his hands. After all, those will be necessary to write the cover letter to his receiver and return-man resume. Those two secondary aspects of his game are vital to his draft status, because no one is looking at him as a mere running back.
|De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon, Receiving|
|YEAR||GAMES||RECEPTIONS||REC YARDS||REC AVG||REC TD|
The obvious knock on Thomas to draftniks will be similarly related to his size. He just cannot be counted on to take the physical beating of the bigger, faster, stronger players in the NFL game. It was apparent in his junior season at Oregon, as he missed three games due to an ankle injury, as The Oregonian reminds us.
Thomas was an All-Pac-12 honorable mention and Maxwell Award semifinalist in 2012, one year after being the Pac-12 Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year and All-Pac-12 selection as a return specialist in 2011. As a freshman, he was the only player in the nation to total 400 yards rushing, receiving and kick returning, according to The Oregonian.
|De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon, Kick Returns|
|De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon, Punt Returns|
So, in this 5'8" package, there isn't much mass to Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas, but there is a whole lot to see at the scouting combine in Indianapolis Sunday. Just don't blink.
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, was the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this past season. He is now an NFL featured writer here. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game.