Even though Oregon had firmly established star running backs, Thomas forced his way onto the field with his electric play-making ability from Day 1. With legendary runner LaMichael James and productive runner Kenjon Barner, Thomas hasn't ever been the feature back for the Ducks. However, Thomas is such a weapon that Oregon's coaches found ways to get him touches and rotate him in with those established veterans the past two seasons.
Thomas only received 55 carries in 2011, but he averaged 10.8 yards per carry and totaled 595 yards with seven touchdowns. Thomas was also used as a wide receiver. He hauled in 46 passes for 605 yards and nine touchdowns. The true freshman also got in on kick returns, averaging 27 yards per return and taking two back for touchdowns.
James was playing for the 49ers last season while Barner served as Oregon's lead back. Thomas was the backup tailback and ran for 701 yards (7.6 average) and 11 touchdowns. He also caught 45 passes for 455 yards and five scores. The sophomore also averaged 24 yards per kick return and 17 yards per punt return. He took back both a kick and a punt for a touchdown.
2013 Season Outlook:
This could be the year that Thomas becomes one of the most dominant offensive weapons in college football. He could be the featured play-maker in the Oregon offense now that James and Barner are inf the NFL. Even though those runners are no longer ahead of Thomas on the depth chart, the Ducks will spread the ball around plenty. They have other weapons in quarterback Marcus Mariota, tight end Colt Lyerla and wide receiver Josh Huff. Still, Thomas could be the focal point in 2013.
Thomas should produce a massive season as long as he stays healthy. Oregon has an easy schedule and won't see a tough defense until late October when the team takes on UCLA and Stanford in back-to-back games.
Adding in a bowl game and possibly the Pac-12 Championship, Thomas could rack up massive all-purpose numbers as the Ducks' feature running back. He should produce a lot of touchdowns and could end up earning consideration for a lot of postseason honors, maybe even the Heisman Trophy.
Thomas is a simple evaluation as he is a pure speed player. He may be the fastest player in college football and is a threat to score any time he touches the football.
In the ground game, Thomas needs to run in space. He isn't a pound-it-between-the-tackles type of runner and doesn't get a lot of yards after contact. If Thomas is used too much running between the tackles, he could easily come down with injuries. Thomas would be better off in a zone-blocking system and attacking the perimeter. Spreading out the field and giving Thomas space to operate makes him a dangerous runner.
As a receiver, Thomas is a mismatch with the speed to burn cornerbacks. He has shown natural pass-receiving ability for a running back. His route-running and hands are developed. could use more refinement for the NFL, but he could have the ability to be a starting slot receiver as a pro if he is deemed too small to play tailback.
Thomas should also be used as a kick and punt returner. He has the ability to be a dangerous weapon on returns.
Durability is the biggest concern with Thomas. There aren't many players in the NFL who play at his size. Every year there are small, fast explosive play-makers who enter the next level, but a lot of them are unable to stick. If Thomas is able to stay healthy in 2013 while Oregon increases his touches, it could go a long way to helping him in the eyes of scouts.
Thomas might be best in the NFL as a slot receiver who also runs the ball from time to time. Using him in that role could get the most out of him and protect him from injury.
2014 NFL Draft Expectations:
Even though Thomas is extremely undersized, it isn't out of the question for him to turn into a first-round pick. He could be an asset for any offense as a part-time running back and slot receiver. West Virginia's Tavon Austin is similar size to Thomas and cracked the top 10 last April. Thomas is bigger than former Pro Bowler Warrick Dunn, who was a first-round pick back in 1997.
If Thomas was bigger, he would be a sure fire first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. The junior needs to have a productive 2013 season in which he takes on a large amount of touches and stays away from injury. Showing durability could be huge for his draft stock. Thomas may not end up grading out as a first-rounder, but he could easily be a second-day pick and a player who becomes more valuable than his draft slot indicates.
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