From the moment he burst onto the scene at Oregon three years ago, nobody expected De'Anthony Thomas to stick around Eugene for all four years. On Sunday, Thomas confirmed that expectation, announcing that he will forego his senior year to declare for the NFL draft.
Thomas finishes his collegiate career with 5,345 all-purpose yards, ranking third in school history behind LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner. Thomas found his niche on kick returns, finishing with 1,885 kickoff return yards and averaging 17.1 yards per punt return. Both are school records at Oregon. During his three years with the Ducks, Thomas returned one punt and four kickoffs for touchdowns.
In the backfield, Thomas rushed for 1,890 yards and 26 touchdowns over his career. 2012 was Thomas' best rushing season with 701 yards and 11 touchdowns. Thomas also racked up 15 receiving touchdowns during his time with the Ducks.
Thomas also had success with Oregon's track and field team, anchoring the 4x100 team that advanced to the 2012 NCAA Championships.
As a freshman, Thomas literally averaged a first down every time he touched the ball at 10.8 yards per carry. Thomas ran for 595 yards and seven touchdowns. That year, his BCS appearance in Oregon's Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin was brief, yet explosive, with two carries for two touchdowns, including a 91-yard run that ranks as the second longest in school history.
Thomas also played an important role the next year in the Fiesta Bowl as he returned the game's opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown, setting the tone for the win over Kansas State.
After an explosive start to 2013 with consecutive 100-yard rushing performances against Nichols State (128) and Virgina (124), Thomas fell off the radar after an ankle injury during Oregon's win in the monsoon over Cal on September 28. Thomas would miss the next three games and struggled upon his return, with a combined 72 yards over the next three games, never really returning to classic DAT form we had come to know and love.
Thomas had hoped that after the departure of James and Barner, he would become Oregon's go-to back. After his ankle injury however, Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner became the new duo in the backfield, once again leaving Thomas in the shadows.
Despite a disappointing junior season, someone will certainly pick up Thomas to provide a spark to their special teams. He's much too small to be a durable NFL running back, but could make some noise returning kicks. Obviously, a player like Devin Hester is one comparison that instantly comes to mind. Hester exploded onto the scene in 2006, setting the record for non-offensive touchdowns with six. Hester also had a stint as a receiver before returning specifically to special teams.
Somewhere in Philly, Chip Kelly is smiling ear to ear and is already building his draft strategy around DAT.