The NFL Scouting Combine was built for players like Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas.
Years ago, NFL scouts would have given the 5’9” and 176-pound (via ESPN.com) Thomas one look and moved on to a bigger, more traditional running back. However, the speedster will put on a show in his individual workouts and improve his draft status in the process.
Look for Thomas to potentially post the fastest 40-yard-dash time of the entire 2014 draft class, immediately landing him on the radar of every team in the league. He will also dazzle in any drills that involve quickness and agility, including the shuttle run and the three-cone drill.
It won’t just be Thomas’ overall speed that impresses, as his explosiveness and ability to stop on a dime and quickly turn directions will be on full display.
That’s not to say there aren’t some concerns with the former Duck as he projects to the next level.
His lack of size makes him an injury risk every time he is hit, and the three games he missed at Oregon this season will be used as evidence of an injury history.
Thomas is also far from a traditional back in the NFL and will frankly get eaten alive if he tries to consistently run between the tackles. Furthermore, the speed in the NFL is at a different level across the positional board, so it will be more difficult for him to simply outrun the opposition like he did against the likes of California and Washington State.
Still, it’s hard to ignore the production of someone who finished his three years at Oregon with 1,890 rushing yards, 1,296 receiving yards and 46 overall touchdowns. He posted 13 touchdowns of 30 yards or more in 2012 alone and counts the Pac-12 Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year award and an All-Pac-12 selection to his resume.
Thomas made a national name for himself with 314 all-purpose yards in the Rose Bowl against Russell Wilson’s Wisconsin team.
(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 8 to 10 touches a game so he can make those plays for us that he did at Oregon?
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.
Thomas is clearly not going to be a first-round pick, but he will demonstrate his worth as a mid-round flier at the combine. The spread offense has found a home in the NFL, and the Oregon product can stretch the field with his game-changing speed as a slot receiver, a change-of-pace back or even a featured player in a read-option scheme.
Few teams, if any, rely solely on one running back in the NFL today, so even if Thomas could provide five to eight carries a game, he would have value.
Finally, Thomas’ ability as a kick returner is where he shows the most upside.
There’s not a team in the league that would hesitate to take him in the middle rounds if it thought it was getting the next version of Devin Hester in his prime, which is exactly who Thomas will remind scouts of during the NFL combine.
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