6 Reasons Why Oregon's Darron Thomas Is a Steal in the NFL Draft

Russell ArchContributor IFebruary 24, 2012

6 Reasons Why Oregon's Darron Thomas Is a Steal in the NFL Draft

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    With the NFL Combine upon us, I thought I'd take a moment to feature who I think will be the biggest steal in the 2012 NFL draft: Darron Thomas.

    The Oregon quarterback is currently seen as, at best, a seventh-round pick, with many analysts thinking that he'll slip into the free agency pool. Here's six reasons why any NFL franchise should take a chance on Thomas.

1. Debunking the "System QB" Moniker

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    First off, let's end this whole "system quarterback" argument that I've heard over and over again. Is Chip Kelly's hurry-up, zone-read offense unusual? Sure. But didn't Cam Newton play in a similar style of offense last year for Auburn? You know, the same Cam Newton that made the Pro Bowl and won Rookie of Year honors in 2011? Yeah, I thought so.

    So apparently it isn't the "system" that determines a QB's success in the NFL, but rather the physical and mental intangibles that they bring to the position. So with that said, it should be noted that Darron Thomas is not the prototypical running quarterback for Chip Kelly's offense. Unlike his predecessors at Oregon (Jeremiah Masoli and Dennis Dixon), Thomas relied much more on passing the ball than using his legs to attack opposing defenses.

    Thomas has the speed to make a defense pay during a busted play, but is much more inclined to hold the ball and look downfield for a passing opportunity first. This is exactly the kind of behavior that Pittsburgh is trying to encourage Dixon to adopt, as he often decides to tuck the ball and run before exploring all the possibilities to pass the ball.

    Kelly has often said that he's looking for quarterbacks who can run, not athletes who can throw—and I think Thomas is the best example of that yet at Oregon.

2. His Stats

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    In a year where quarterbacks like Arizona's Nick Foles, Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill and Arizona State's Brock Osweiler are ranked light years ahead of a player like Darron Thomas, I think comparing their statistics is worthwhile endeavor.

    After all, it seems like many of the so-called "experts" have chosen to avoid the stats altogether. In fact, the CBS Sports breakdown states that Thomas "didn't always exhibit the best judgment in the passing game," despite the fact that he threw just seven interceptions all season, compared to 33 touchdowns.

    By comparison, Foles threw 14 interceptions (against 28 TDs), Tannehill threw 15 interceptions (against 29 TDs) and Osweiler threw 13 interceptions (against 26 TDs). Shouldn't the touchdown-to-interception ratio count for something, especially when you're calling a QB's judgement into question?

    And in the NCAA's Passing Efficiency numbers, here's where all four ranked:

    • Darron Thomas (11th overall)
    • Nick Foles (28th overall)
    • Brock Osweiler (37th overall)
    • Ryan Tannehill (55th overall)

    That's right, Tannehill actually ranked BEHIND Notre Dame's erratic QB Tommy Rees, and yet he's continually being touted as a first-round pick?

    Not only that, but 2011 was Thomas' second year of providing great passing stats for the Ducks. As a red-shirt sophomore in 2010, he ranked 17th overall in passing efficiency. Meanwhile Foles was 34th, Tannehill was 41st and Osweiler didn't even make the list after sitting behind Steven Threet for most of the season.

3. His Split-Second Decision Making

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    The NFL is a faster game than college football. The defenders are quicker, the passing windows are smaller and the difference between having success or failure on any given play shrinks significantly. So while many would criticize Darron Thomas for playing in a multi-read, spread offense, I actually think it will help him with the mental toughness it takes to play at the next level.

    Think about it, most quarterbacks get a play from the sideline and immediatley know whether it's a run or a pass. Furthermore, if it's a run, they certainly know which player is getting the ball. For Thomas, his running plays often contained as many as three "reads" on each play, which requires him to either keep or hand off the ball to a particular teammate in a fraction of a second.

    Oh yeah, and he did all of this without having the advantage of a huddle, often snapping the ball within moments of the referee placing the ball in play.

    So was he successful? Let's put it this way, when Dennis Dixon injured himself 10 games into the his legendary senior season, the Ducks offense was averaging 505 yards-per-game.

    In 2010, when Thomas first took the reigns of Chip Kelly's offense as a red-shirt sophomore, the Ducks averaged 530 yards of offense per game. And in 2011, with a depleted wide receiver corps, the Oregon offense still managed 522 yards per game.

    And before people bring up LaMichael James into the discussion, let's not forget that Dixon was handing off to an eventual first-round selection (Jonathan Stewart) in 2007.

4. His Toughness

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    Running Chip Kelly's offense requires a quarterback to be tougher than average. Often times, the defensive player you've correctly "read" will still blast you even though you've correctly handed off the ball to the running back.

    Other times you're allowing a defensive lineman or linebacker to come free on a blitz, knowing that it opens up a receiver downfield. And finally, let's not forget all those designed runs, where the spread quarterback is expected to get those tough yards and keep the chains moving.

    Darron Thomas is a type of quarterback who's willing to hold the football until the last possible moment in order to complete a pass, even if that means he'll take a huge hit from an oncoming defender. It's these unmeasurable qualities that make quarterbacks like Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning world champions while other quarterbacks might compile more impressive statistics.

    Dennis Dixon found out how hard it was to stay healthy in Kelly's "system," lasting nine games until he suffered a devastating knee injury. Dixon's backup (Brady Leaf) lasted just two games before he too, went down with a season ending injury. In fact, in 2007 the Ducks went through an unprecedented FIVE quarterbacks to complete the season.

    In 2008, the Ducks needed four quarterbacks to complete the season.

    And while Jeremiah Masoli proved to be a tough replacement in 2008 and 2009, even he missed a couple games with nagging injuries despite being built more like a running back (5'11", 220 pounds) than a quarterback.

    The fact is that Thomas started 26 of 27 games following his red shirt season, and the one game he didn't start (2011 at Colorado) was based on precautionary measures, as he was suited up on the sidelines if needed.

5. He's a Winner

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    When Darron Thomas arrived as the starting quarterback for the Ducks in 2010, they had never played in the BCS National Championship Game, and they hadn't won a Rose Bowl in almost a century. Just two years later, both have been accomplished.

    Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is widely considered to be the top pick in the NFL Draft this April, and amassed a 23-3 record as a starter in his last two seasons. Yet here's what you see when you take a look at those three losses:

    • The three-point loss (41-38) in overtime to Oklahoma State and QB Brandon Weeden.
    • A 23-point loss (53-30) at home to Oregon and QB Darron Thomas in 2011.
    • A 21-point loss (52-31) to Oregon and QB Darron Thomas in 2010.

    Like Luck, Thomas also had a 23-3 record as a starter for the Ducks the last two seasons. However two of Thomas' losses came against the No. 1 team in the country (Auburn and LSU) where the Oregon running game (not passing) was severely affected.

    Simply put, Thomas is a "gamer". He plays better in the second half than the first. Like all great competitors, he plays better with the game on the line and when the pressure is at it's greatest.

    The best example of this might be his game-tying two-point conversion in the closing moments of the 2011 BCS National Championship Game. After leading the Ducks downfield, he tossed a shovel pass to LaMichael James to pull the Ducks within two points. Then, after lining up for the two-point conversion, Thomas made a circus catch of a terrible snap from the center, rolled to his right and fired a perfect pass across his body to a waiting receiver in the back of the end zone.

    To make such a play in his first season as a starting QB at the college level says so much about Thomas' ability to block out nerves and distractions when a game is on the line. 

    In the end, the "experts" can try to criticize his footwork, throwing motion or any other intangibles they like, yet Thomas did what all great quarterbacks do in the end: He won games.

6. His Determination

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    Darron Thomas has been fighting to be a quarterback for years. He was originally committed to LSU in 2007, but became wary of Les Miles after the Tigers kept recruiting quarterbacks in his class. The rumors of a switch to wide receiver as well as Miles saying “Darron, you’re a great athlete. You can do a lot of different things,” during his official visit allowed Thomas to find the University of Oregon.

    Now, after completing two spectacular seasons as the quarterback for one of the most prolific offenses in college football, he once again has the so-called "experts" predicting a move to wide receiver in order to play in the NFL.

    So, once again, Thomas sets out to prove people wrong about his ability to play quarterback at the next level. He's done it once, and taken his college team to heights never once thought possible, and now it's time to do it again for one lucky NFL franchise.

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