De'Anthony Thomas | 5'9, 176 pounds | Running back | Oregon | Junior
92 rushing attempts, 701 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns, 45 catches, 445 receiving yards, five touchdowns
De'Anthony Thomas has already made quite the name for himself. His high school recruitment was a national story, he's never used a lowercase letter on Twitter and every time he touches the football, he's a threat to create a highlight.
Now, Kenjon Barner is in the NFL, and Oregon's backfield is Thomas' for the taking. Oregon coach mark Helfrich doesn't plan to run Thomas into the ground, but he can impact the game in a variety of ways that will reduce the wear and tear on his 5-foot-9-inch frame.
Where does Thomas fit into the NFL? Just about anywhere really.
What he does well
Thomas' is arguably the most electric playmaker in college football. He has outstanding acceleration and is shifty with the ball in his hands. Even more impressive than his sheer straight-line speed is his ability to stop on a dime and reach top speed in an instant. He's so tough to tackle because of his body control and ability to stay balanced in his running at all times. When a running back can cut the way Thomas can, it makes it difficult for tacklers to get the appropriate angle on him because he is able to change that angle in an instant.
As an inside runner, Thomas draws some criticism due to his size. But considering his build, Thomas displays impression vision and a bit of power between the tackles. Oregon doesn't pound the rock up the middle with Thomas, but when called upon he consistently picks up solid yardage by avoiding first contact at the line of scrimmage.
With "offensive weapon" being the new term used to describe hybrid players that can play running back and wide receiver, Thomas is sure to get that designation. Oregon lines him up in the slot on occasion, where he demonstrates the ability to get separation with quick cuts and acceleration. He has soft hands and is an obvious threat after the catch.
Thomas will make an impact right away in the NFL as a return man. In both the kick return and punt return game, Thomas makes people miss and has the vision to take advantage of every yard the coverage team is giving him.
What he needs to improve on
Size is the first and most glaring issue with Thomas. While he doesn't necessarily need to put on a ton of weight to be successful, Thomas has the room to get a bit stronger. His lack of size is an advantage in some ways, but he needs to add strength and prove that he can handle the workload of being an NFL running game.
One way Thomas could improve his power as a runner without even adding size is to play with a better pad level. He's a bit upright when running the ball and doesn't put all of his speed and power behind his pads. He gets away with it because of his athleticism and ability to make people miss, but in the NFL technique can be more important than skill at times.
Thomas' size will scare some teams away, but he is oozing with the potential to be a big-time playmaker. The success of players like Denard Robinson and Tavon Austin will go a long way towards determining how Thomas is perceived in NFL Draft circles. He has enough talent in the open field to make a huge impact even if his team has to limit his touches. Maybe he doesn't have a fixed position, but he will make plays. That should get him consideration in the first round, so long as he improves his strength and technique.