Eagles Draft Target: RB/WR De'Anthony Thomas

Eagles Draft Target: RB/WR De'Anthony Thomas
March 2, 2014, 9:00 am
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De’Anthony Thomas was clocked at a disappointing 4.51 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. (AP)

DRAFT TARGETS

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Each Sunday we'll examine a potential draft pick for the Eagles -- first round or otherwise. Today we'll take a look at a potential game changer out of Oregon.

De’Anthony Thomas
Position: RB/WR
Height/Weight: 5-9, 174
School: Oregon

It’s been a week since Oregon game-changer and my 11th-rated prospect De’Anthony Thomas was clocked at a disappointing 4.51 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. It was an official time that shocked the scouting community, especially after he was unofficially timed at a 4.34 during his first 40-yard attempt, which seemed to be a more accurate portrayal of his explosive game speed.

Regardless of what concerns some evaluators and analysts may have after what was officially revealed in Indianapolis, make no mistake about it: Pound for pound, Thomas is the most dangerous prospect available in the 2014 NFL draft. Known for his dynamic skill set, joystick-like maneuvers, versatility and ability to score every time the ball is in his hands, Thomas, no matter if he’s selected in the first round or the seventh round, is destined to be a difference maker at the next level.

Growing up, Thomas was a star athlete who possessed track-star speed and the natural athleticism that made it easy for him to stand out on the football field. When he was 12 years old, Thomas played in one of legendary rapper Snoop Dogg’s youth leagues and caught the eye of the d-o-double-g, who nicknamed him “Black Mamba” because of his blazing speed and quick-strike ability.

During his high school years, the legend of the “Black Mamba” grew and ultimately led him to being the No. 1 athlete recruit in the nation. Thomas originally committed to Southern Cal, but was intrigued about the opportunity to be showcased in Oregon’s high-octane offense and decided to change course to work under former Ducks and current Eagles head coach Chip Kelly.

A multi-dimensional weapon for the Ducks, Thomas was a highlight reel waiting to happen with his exploits on offense and special teams. During his three-year career in Eugene, Thomas amassed 1,890 rushing yards, 1,296 receiving yards, 1,885 return yards and 46 total touchdowns (26 rushing, 15 receiving and five on returns).

While his underwhelming 40-time from the Combine is still fresh in the minds of NFL personnel and the football universe, it’s hard to ignore the production that Thomas generated at Oregon and the game-changing ability he offers at the next level. Fortunately for Thomas, he has a chance to redeem himself and dispel any of the concerns evaluators may have about his timed speed at Oregon’s Pro Day on March 13.

Strengths
Thomas is a lethal playmaker who can change the reflection of a game every time the ball is in his hands. He possesses incredible game speed, acceleration and vision out of the backfield and in space. He’s extremely dangerous on the perimeter, works well in tight spaces and needs only the smallest crease to create offense.

He’s very patient with the ball in his hands, varies his speed and follows his blockers. He has great body control and balance and is able to tightrope the sideline to gain extra yardage. He flashes soft hands and has great yards after the catch potential as a receiver, not to mention a knack for the acrobatic making difficult catches in space and in traffic. He’s an explosive return man who has the shiftiness to make the first man miss and uses his vision and acceleration to put himself and his team into scoring situations.

Weaknesses
As explosive as Thomas is, and as much of an impact as he can make… he’s very small and doesn’t have a definitive position at the next level. He lacks strength, doesn’t enjoy the physical aspects of the game and will leave yards on the field to avoid contact, which in some ways is smart given his size and durability concerns. He primarily worked out of the backfield at the collegiate level, but his size does not translate to him being a running back in the NFL.

He has good hands and has a lot of potential as a receiver, but he has to be committed to learning the nuances of the receiver position and not rely on his natural gifts; he must develop his pass catching and route-running ability.

How he’d fit with the Eagles
The Eagles had one of the most explosive offenses in the National Football League in 2013, and there’s no reason why they can’t replicate that success this coming season with the exciting young talent that they have on their roster.

With the Eagles re-signing Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin, the wide receiver position is in good shape in the short-term, but it’s still unknown what the future holds -- and if Jason Avant will return or if he’ll be a cap casualty -- which leaves the door wide open for the Eagles to draft a receiver in the early to mid rounds.

Bringing in a playmaker like Thomas, who possesses many of the same physical attributes and skill qualities of DeSean Jackson, instead of a bigger, more physical young receiver, would be an interesting move. At this point in their careers, Jackson is the more dynamic, polished receiver who can impact the game from anywhere on the offensive side of the ball, while Thomas is a situational weapon who can be used out of the backfield or in the slot as a receiving threat.

But the most intriguing aspect of the Eagles potentially drafting Thomas is the relationship that he and Jackson have. It’s no secret that the two Los Angeles natives are very close friends with Jackson referring to Thomas in interviews as his “little brother” and “little cousin.” Even though Jackson has been an immature personality at times in his career, bringing in Thomas could provide him with the mentorship role he needs to help with his maturation and for him to become the team leader the Eagles need him to be moving forward.

The relationship between Kelly and Thomas is also well-documented with Thomas recently praising his former coach at the scouting combine. The skill set that Thomas features is exactly the type of explosive, space player that Kelly covets in his offense, and if Thomas were to wind up in Philadelphia, it would be a positive learning environment for him, since he already knows concepts of the offense and what to expect from Kelly.

However, the big question that remains is how high a team should select Thomas in the draft. In terms of skill set and potential impact, Thomas could receive first-round attention from a few teams, including the Eagles, but if you mix in the concerns about his size, durability, position uncertainty, etc., it’s possible that Thomas could fall to the third or fourth round.

But, remember this, wherever the “Black Mamba” settles, proceed with caution and beware of a quick and lethal strike.

Prospect reflection: Tavon Austin (West Virginia), 2013: First round (eighth overall) by St. Louis Rams.

Draft projection: 1st-3rd round.