One of the most electrifying playmakers in college football over the past three seasons, Oregon running back De'Anthony Thomas hasn't generated much "buzz" after deciding to forgo his senior year and enter the NFL draft.
Although still a household name, there's a disconnect between his ability to make plays in college and how people feel it will translate to the next level.
The 5'9", 174-pound Thomas became known for his speed and slashing ability displayed in Oregon's uptempo spread offense.
|De'Anthony Thomas' Career at Oregon|
Thomas, who CBSSports.com projects as a sixth-round pick, sits as the No. 17 running back in the 2014 class, according to its rankings.
It's tough to categorize Thomas strictly as a running back, though, considering his biggest impact early in his professional career might be in the return game or in moving around from the slot and backfield.
But as the NFL continues to tweak its rules to lessen the overall impact of returners, mainly by moving up the spot of kickoffs, players such as Thomas will have to make an impact in offensive sets if they're to take a roster spot.
The bottom line is people think he's too small and doesn't have the frame to add a lot of weight and take the inevitable punishment he'll get in the NFL.
It's a valid concern, but not one that couldn't be refuted if you look around the league at players with similar stature making an impact.
The fact that his production dropped in each of his three years didn't help him either, and his inability to bounce back and show the same burst after an ankle injury last season has given teams cause for concern as well.
But the one thing about small players who've made an impact in college is that being small isn't a shock to them; they've been told they're too small throughout their entire football career.
Darren Sproles was told he was too small to play college football, then professional football, and yet he keeps chugging along and carving out a nice little career for himself.
Thomas and Sproles have a few things in common, and one thing is their ability to make defensive coordinators nervous about the thought of the ball in their hands in space.
Here's a look at a couple of plays from Thomas last year and how NFL teams could use him.
In this first play, you'll see Thomas from the slot receiver position run the famous "rub route" that's become ever so popular in the NFL.
This play actually gets called for offensive pass interference, but you can see how this route for Thomas in the red zone would be tough for an NFL defense to contend with schematically.
If any of the defensive backs come underneath, then a player is left wide open; but if they stay back, they're giving this throw a pretty clean look to the corner of the end zone. Thomas' speed and quickness to turn the corner and get the edge make this a matchup nightmare for a defense.
In this next play, you'll see how Thomas can be effective in the passing game from the backfield.
There's nothing tricky or too gimmicky about this play call from Oregon.
It fakes the handoff to Thomas from the shotgun, and he sneaks out to the middle of the field for the wide-open catch-and-run.
This isn't mind-blowing from the Oregon offense; it simply found a safe way to easily get the ball in Thomas' hands in space.
NFL teams would be able to find ways to do something similar.
More importantly than what Thomas does from an offensive production standpoint is how NFL defenses would align their personnel for him while he's on the field.
Would he be treated as any other running back?
How would they adjust when he split out at receiver before the snap?
However teams would approach the defense of those scenarios tells you how much value Thomas would bring to an NFL team.
His speed and game-breaking ability make it seem unlikely Thomas will fall to the fifth round of the draft. There's just too much skill there that can be utilized for a talent like him to drop too far after the third round.
Whether it's in the return game or getting schemed into a certain number of plays each week as an offensive weapon, Thomas can bring a skill set to the table that teams want to use.
De'Anthony Thomas told Justin Wise at the Oregon Daily Emerald, "I want to get anywhere on the field just to play and show my ability that I can play football. Wide receiver, punt returner, kick returner, just somewhere I can contribute and make plays."
The old saying is "you can't teach speed," and fact is, Thomas has a lot of it.
Regardless of where people project him to be drafted right now, players with speed and playmaking ability always go higher than originally thought.
He's going to excite the fanbase of whichever team gives him an opportunity.
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