2014 NFL Draft: Pre-Season Breakdown – De’Anthony Thomas, RB Oregon


September 15, 2012; Eugene, OR, USA; Oregon Ducks running back De

DeAnthony Thomas has been a sensation in college football since he stepped foot on Oregon’s campus in Eugene.  Thomas’s skill set and ability combined with the Ducks offense has been a tremendous match and Thomas is the next in the line of running backs that includes players like LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner that are are smaller, more athletic backs with speed.

As a true sophomore, Thomas had 1,757 total yards and 16 touchdowns while averaging over 10 yards per touch.  He was never carrying a full load for Oregon but they used him in every conceivable situation possible as a weapon and a playmaker.  This year, he may take over a more featured role with Barner in Carolina.  Thomas has some work to do on fundamentals as a ball carrier in addition to being undersized, but he is a player that will be an intriguing NFL prospect because he can contribute as a running back, receiver, and special teams threat.  He could do some serious damage with a team that takes full advantage of all of his abilities and lets him loose, but he does have improvements to make before he can be much more than a returner and par time threat.  Right now, he looks like a third day pick but depending on how he is able to add weight and improves on his technique, he could improve his stock by the time he enters the draft in a year or two.  Thomas might have some hidden potential still to realize with his body but his technique, if improved, could make him a dynamic threat.

Vitals & Build

Thomas is listed at 5’9” 176lbs with tremendous agility and speed for the position.  He also displays great feet, body control, and good vision.  He is undersized for the position and needs to gain strength but he looks extremely lean even for his build.  As a result, Thomas may be a lean, undersized back and may stay that way but his frame looks like it can add weight; significant weight.  Appearances may be deceiving but there is a possibility that his body could completely change over the next year or two with work in the weight room and he could really bulk up, which would make him far more viable as a running back.  If that is true and he comes in this season in the mid 180lb area, he could end up being in the 190s by the draft or next season depending on the path he chooses.  If he can add that kind of weight while maintaining his athleticism, he could really change the arc of his career in the NFL.

Running Style

Thomas is more of an athlete running the ball than a running back when it comes to technique.  He runs on pure instinct quite a bit, which is an impressive instinct.  Despite how often Oregon hands him the ball running East and West, he is looking for the first good hole he can find, even if that requires him to turn and go up the middle.  Thomas is not afraid to run the ball between the tackles with good agility to make defenders miss.  He is unpredictable and quick, which creates situations where he can break ankles and make opponents look really bad.

Thomas needs to do a better job of running behind his pads to protect himself and the football.  He runs so upright and even with how short he is, he runs tall and gives opponents a big target to hit.  If he can play lower to the ground and get behind his pads, he will play stronger, with more balance and potentially play quicker.  The times he does get behind his pads, he gets incredibly low and is a pain for opponents to try to dig out.  Even though he runs high, his balance and body control can be spectacular and he will display power by virtue of momentum.  If he can get a head of steam, he will run into opponents rather than go out of bounds but he just barrels into them upright rather than lowering his shoulder.  His speed enables him to fall forward and pick up extra yards, but he would be stronger and go forward more consistently if he does a better job.  Thomas will also hit guys and stay up and continue running.

As amazing a runner as Thomas is, he could be a much better player if he employs more technique.  His raw athleticism and ability is impressive but he could get that much better if he can employ better fundamentals while carrying the ball to exemplify his athletic gifts.

Thomas has speed to get outside and make long runs with the ability to take the big one, which makes him a constant danger.  He is the type of player that can be a game breaker when he gets in space but he does leave yards on the field at times, so he has potential he can still reach to be more consistent and more effective overall.

Route Running & Technique

Thomas has a good stance and little false movement which enables him to fly off the ball.  As a route runner, Oregon does not ask their players to run precise routes so much as they ask them to attack zones and areas of the field.  Thomas may have some adjustments to make to move to a more conventional route tree but his experience attacking down the field and towards the sideline will prove beneficial.  Because of the way of the Oregon uses their running backs, they have used Thomas as a receiving threat significantly and far beyond just catching swing passes and dump offs, but as a receiver who happens to be lined up in the backfield for the most part.


Thomas’s hands are inconsistent but he is not afraid to use his hands to reach out and snag the football.  His body control makes him able to adjust to the ball and put himself in position to make difficult catches easier.  While he can snatch the ball out of the air, he seems to hear footsteps and will drop some passes.  Still, he offers significant potential in this area.  Thomas also lets some balls get into his body.

Run After Catch

When he catches the ball cleanly, Thomas is every bit the threat he is in the backfield and being a receiver just moves him around and lets him take on fewer defenders.  When he lets the ball get into his body, he has a slower adjustment from catching the ball to running after the catch.  The times he catches the ball with his hands, he can make that transition quickly.

Special Teams

Thomas’s ability as a returner will certainly help his value and viability going to the next level.  Being able to return kicks is nice, but Thomas’s value is in returning punts.  His 17 yard average with a touchdown last year was incredibly impressive.  Certainly, teams will put him back there to watch the ball sail over his head out of bounds on kickoffs but it is much more difficult to avoid him on punts and he is a player who can dramatically impact field position as well as being a threat to score.  His vision, quickness and speed make him a natural fit there.

System Fit

As it is, Thomas is primarily a part time player.  He can be a full time returner, both on kicks and punts but he can be a running back and receiver as well.  The team that takes him will probably want to keep track of his touches, which is something Oregon has done to this point in his career.  If he can put on more weight, he can grow into a bigger role, but he is a potentially game changing threat who can make big plays.  For teams that are creative, they could use him in a number of different ways and the Philadelphia Eagles stand out in that department for obvious reasons.  The Rams with their spread style of offense they seem to be implementing could be a nice fit as well.

2013 Schedule

Sat, Aug. 31vs. Nicholls State
Sat, Sept. 7at Virginia
Sat, Sept. 14vs. Tennessee
Sat, Sept. 28vs. Cal
Sat, Oct. 5at Colorado
Sat, Oct. 12at Washington
Sat, Oct. 19vs. Washington State
Sat, Oct. 26vs. UCLA
Thu, Nov. 7at Stanford
Sat, Nov. 16vs. Utah
Sat, Nov. 23at Arizona
Fri, Nov. 29vs. Oregon State

Notable Games

Thomas’s toughness is going to be questioned entering the draft process but the Ducks have three games that could really help him prove that he is tough and tough enough for the NFL.  Starting week three with Tennessee and an SEC defenses with some incredible size and strength in spots, if Thomas can do some damage in the middle of the field and take punishment and succeed, it will help him.  He has a similar test in back to back games against UCLA and then Stanford, two teams that take pride in being tough and have the ability to be a tough run defense.  Stanford has more strength while UCLA has more speed but both have the ability to beat up Thomas if he is not careful.

NFL Comparison

Based on what he has done to this point, Thomas is reminiscent of Dante Hall, the former returner and wide receiver of the Chiefs and Rams.  Tabbed the ‘human joystick’, he was an unbelievable threat on punt returns, but he also did make some contributions as a pass catcher and teams found a way to hand him the ball.  Returners like Hall do not have a long shelf life and tend to burn bright for a few years and then disappear, which is what happened with Hall.

Draft Projection

Thomas looks like a third day pick based on what he has done so far as a special teams ace and part time weapon.  If he can add weight and fill out his frame in addition to improving his technique as a ball carrier, he could make himself into more.  Thomas can be a weapon in the NFL but it will require him to prove some doubters wrong about his size if he cannot continue to get stronger, both for Oregon skill position players but also for light weight players.