Play-maker; a threat to score from anywhere on the field
Enough quickness to get separation
Gets yards after catch
Nice fit as a runner, slot receiver
Special teams weapon
Pro Bowl potential as a kick and punt returner
Ran surprisingly slow at the Combine; aberration?
Should improve his route-running
Needs to improve blocking
Summary: Oregon has been known for electric playmakers in recent years, and Thomas has been one of their stars. He hasn't always lived up to the hype he's received, but there is no doubt that Thomas can be a playmaker.
Thomas forced his way into playing time as a true freshman even with the Ducks having experienced play-makers like LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner. 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. Thomas got in on kick returns, too, averaging 27 yards per return and taking two back for touchdowns.
Thomas ran for 701 yards (7.6 average) and 11 touchdowns in 2012. He also caught 45 passes for 455 yards and five scores. Thomas handled kick returns, averaging 24 yards per kick return and 17 yards per punt return. He took back both a kick and a punt for a touchdown.
As a junior, Thomas was expected to be the lead back with Barner and James in the NFL, but it never happened. Thomas started well before an ankle injury knocked him out for four games. After coming back to the field, Oregon had already transitioned to other backs, so Thomas became a forgotten man. In his final college game, he had only three carries in the Alamo Bowl against Texas. He finished his 2013 campaign with only 96 carries for 594 yards and eight touchdowns. The junior had 22 receptions for 246 yards and a score, too. Thomas lost a critical fumble against Stanford, but he returned a kickoff for a touchdown against Utah. Thomas would have been better off returning for his senior season.
Thomas would be best utilized primarily as a special teams returner and slot receiver. He could get occasional carries as a running back, but he doesn't have the size and durability to stay healthy with a large number of carries. His return ability is his best trait and the one that could make him a success in the NFL. Thomas still needs some development as a receiver and blocker, so he probably won't be the starting slot wide out or third down back as a rookie.
With his play-making skill set, Thomas could be a nice value pick on the third day of the draft as a runner, receiver and special teams contributor. He probably will be mostly a backup running back and receiver while being featured on special teams.
Player Comparison: Dexter McCluster. Of any player in the NFL, Thomas' game probably resembles McCluster the most if Thomas can be as durable as McCluster has been. The new Tennessee Titan was a second-round pick of the Chiefs in the 2010 NFL Draft, though Thomas isn't projected to go before the final day of the draft. McCluster (5-8, 170) is more of a receiver than a runner in the NFL because of his size. He had 114 carries in his second season, but since then, his highest total was 12 carries. McCluster has more than 50 receptions the past two years. His speed makes him tough to cover on passing routes, and he is a nice weapon as a slot receiver.
On special teams, Thomas should get more usage as a returner than McCluster has. McCluster was a kick returner his first two years, but stopped returning kicks in 2012. He took over punt return duties in 2013. McCluster had two returned for touchdowns and averaged 11.8 yards per return last year. Thomas could put up similar numbers.
NFL Matches: Tennessee, New York Giants, Cleveland, San Diego, Oakland, Miami, New York Jets, Atlanta, San Diego, Kansas City
Thomas is a luxury pick to a degree on the third day of the draft. That being said, he could provide a nice impact for a mid- to late-round pick. There are a lot of teams that could consider adding some running back help on the final day of the draft.
The Titans could move on from Chris Johnson and Thomas would be a nice replacement as a back with a speed option, although Thomas would have to be part of a tandem approach to replacing Johnson.
The Giants signed Rashad Jennings in free agency while David Wilson is coming back from a dangerous neck injury. Adding another runner could make sense for New York.
Staying in the Big Apple, the Jets could use another play-maker for their offense. Elsewhere in the AFC East, Miami is still searching for help at running back. Thomas could be brought in to compete with the Dolphins holdovers.
Cleveland signed Ben Tate in free agency, but Thomas could be a change-of-pace back. The Browns have a lot of picks to address needs, and they also want to get more explosive on offense.
Atlanta made a short-term signing with Steven Jackson and Jason Snelling retired, so the Falcons could look for some running back depth on day three.
In the AFC West, San Diego could use another back behind Ryan Mathews. Kansas City could draft Thomas to be its replacement for McCluster.