There is no denying that the NFL is moving more and more toward being a passing league. Quarterback play becomes increasing valuable, and needing significant skills position players to work within the myriad of sets and formations teams want to use is putting franchises in all-hands-on-deck situations.
With that, the days of running backs who do nothing but line up and run behind a fullback are a thing of the past, along with those fullbacks.
Instead, teams want multi-purpose offensive weapons. Guys who can line up at running back, wide receiver, or return punts and kicks if need be. Fortunately, college football has a nice supply of these kinds of players every season, but it takes some work to sort out which ones are good college players and which ones can be great NFL players as well.
This time, we’re going to take a look at Oregon running back/wide receiver De’Anthony Thomas, one of the most fascinating prospects in the 2014 NFL draft.
- Elite speed
- Quickness and change of direction on par with anyone in the country
- Gets to full speed in just a few step
- Can work effectively as a running back or wide receiver
- Good route runner
- Very good hands out of the backfield or lined up as wide receiver
- Can work in the slot of on boundary as a receiver
- Fights hard for yardage
- Shows good patience with the football in his hands
- Resume against top competition
- May not have a true position in the NFL
- Lacks ideal size and bulk
- Not a great pure running back
- Doesn’t always take what the play gives, and loses out of yardage
- Has to fight off history of Oregon playmakers
I expect big things from Thomas this year. A new head coach likely means some changes on offense, and that should start with Thomas.
He can line up as a running back and be effective rushing even between the tackles, but also line up as a slot or split wide. His route running continues to improve and as he gets more polish on that part of his game, the more valuable he will become. He does a nice job of finding spots the in zone coverage, uses his quick feet to get away, and has a plus catch radius and active hands.
Much of how a player is able to run after a catch has to do with the throw, but with Thomas, if the throw is there and he doesn’t have to lose speed to catch it, he’s off to the races.
As a runner, Thomas is less polished, but still very dangerous. When you have a player with this much speed and you give him a crease, you will pay for it. He keeps his pad level low, follows his blocks and does a nice job setting things up. Obviously, being as small as he is, no one is going to mistake Thomas for a goal line power back, but he doesn’t shy away from contact and isn’t afraid to mix it up.
But let’s be very clear about one thing: in the NFL, Thomas’ ability to work as a running back will be secondary to what he will do as a wide receiver. He could be situational and even work out of the Wildcat, but Thomas is going to earn his money as a receiver and kick returner.
Thomas is a blast to watch and that should continue into 2013.
2014 NFL Draft projection-3rd Round
Games Reviewed — all or part of every Oregon game from 2011 and 2012