NGSC Sports

The Case for De’Anthony Thomas in Round One

While I’m more than aware of the fact that I am in the minority by saying De’Anthony Thomas’ skill set warrants first round consideration, I am certainly willing to substantiate the claim. Popular opinions are “he’s just a straight-line runner,” “his legs go dead on contact,” “he’s strictly a wide receiver in the NFL” and my favorite, “he’s too small and not durable enough to be an every-down back at the next level” (whatever that means). The remainder of this article will be dedicated to examining the validity of the aforementioned opinions commonly associated with smaller running backs. I will also illustrate ways to utilize a running back who possess  attributes similar to Thomas. Before we delve further, please see the grid below for a brief overview of his strengths and weaknesses.

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Thomas presents a great number of tools, which enables him to be utilized at the wide receiver position as well as at running back. His versatility allows a progressive offensive mind to essentially change personnel without substitution. To his detractors who say he is not an “every-down back,” I submit to you; he doesn’t have to be! What matters is that he is indeed an every-down player who should rarely come off of the football field, which is why I have given him a first round grade.  A player like this is only as limited as the mind of his offensive coordinator.

Below I have diagramed and animated plays utilizing motion in-and-out of the backfield and three running back sets operating from the pistol. At Oregon he played the “tazer” position, which is a hybrid running back/ wide receiver position in that offense. In each of the videos below, Thomas is labeled SB, which, in essence, is a slot back. In offenses I’ve played in, they were also known as “super backs”.

 

Triple Option

The offense initially lines up in split-back formation. Recognizing good run ratios with two high safeties, Thomas (SB) will motion into the backfield as the deep back and become the quarterback’s pitchman. Remember the old saying, “the option won’t work in the NFL because the defensive end is going to hit the quarterback every time?” Well that doesn’t necessarily hold true anymore. If the philosophy is to hit the quarterback “just because”, when Thomas is the pitchman, you could very well be giving up a quick six points. The option worked extremely well for him in college, and it could work very well for him in the NFL also, particularly if he’s teamed up with a mobile quarterback.

 

Jet Sweep 

Getting Thomas the ball on any sort of misdirection play call is an excellent idea. On this particular play, the quarterback pump fakes to the flanker on the screen then hands off to the super back who is already at top speed by the time he gets his hands on the football. With the combo block on the defensive end and the left guard reaching up to the second level, this should certainly result in positive yardage.

 

Sweep 

Pre-snap, the offense shows the broken I formation. The super back will again motion into the backfield, but this time he replaces one of the “sniffer” positions in the diamond formation. The quarterback fakes to the fullback or the other sniffer who would hopefully be more of a Charles Clay type (a guy who can run out of the backfield and run routes as a tight end) then hands off to the super back, who should only have the strong safety to beat.

 

SB Drag

This is essentially the inverse of some of the previously illustrated plays. Instead of our super back motioning into the backfield to create the diamond formation, he will instead motion out of the backfield and into the slot in an effort to get a mismatch on a linebacker or a safety. Being that you want to get a guy like Thomas the ball immediately, I’d send him on a short crossing route and send my fullback (a Charles Clay type) down the seam to stretch the defense giving my super back more space to operate. Another great way to get him the ball quickly in the passing game would be to get him involved in the screen game.

 

Counter

Last but not least, he could also be used in a more traditional fashion such as the I formation or single back. Getting an over aggressive defense flowing one direction and coming back the opposite direction with a player that possesses Thomas’ speed, vision and lateral agility could result in a lot of big plays. If the other back in this three back offense is Ben Tate for example and he needs a breather, there is nothing wrong with Thomas stepping in for him as the lone back in the backfield, or “dotting the I” in the traditional I formation.

By now I hope we’re all able to agree that Thomas is a great weapon to have on your team. While I likened Thomas to McCluster, he has superior athleticism compared to McCluster. Unfortunately, McCluster has been forced to masquerade as a wide receiver when he is more running back than anything else. It is my hope that wherever De’Anthony Thomas goes, he is valued and utilized properly. He is indeed a running back who happens to have above average skills as a receiver as well.

Thomas isn’t just a hood ornament or luxury item on offense, he’s the type of player who adds another dimension to a playbook and simplifies the offense. His versatility can help a team move the ball rather consistently between the 20s and aid a quarterback in quickly identifying overhang and where to attack pre-snap.  With the ability to score from so many different places on the football field, defenses will have to keep track of where he is at all times which frees up others to make plays.

Knowing the type of flexibility a player like Thomas gives an offense, I’d be more than happy to spend a late first round pick on him, how about you?

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