Were the late Billy Mays still with us, or Vince the Shamwow Guy not preoccupied with making the worst reviewed film of the year, the two pitchmen could adopt De’Anthony Thomas. The Oregon Ducks junior’s game is akin to one of those miracle products that TV carnival barkers push on cable infomercials: impossibly versatile.
The difference? Thomas is actually as good as advertised.
De’Anthony Thomas might have the most impressive all-around game of any 2013 Heisman contender. He operated primarily as a receiver and kick returner in 2011. Last season, he continued to function in the Duck passing game, moved to punt return on special teams, and gave Oregon a dangerous change-of-pace option behind Kenjon Barner.
There were even rumblings at one point that Thomas could play some defensive back when the Oregon secondary was depleted by injuries late last season. It didn’t happen, but he was a 1st Team All-CIF Los Angeles selection at cornerback in high school and USC recruited Thomas to play defense.
How De’Anthony Thomas Wins The Heisman
Thomas is a truly unique Heisman candidate. At 5-foot-9 and around 180 pounds, he’s much smaller than the typical feature back, and feature backs are those which carry heavy workloads to rack up the statistics needed to earn the Heisman.
Oregon’s LaMichael James transcended the model of a typical Heisman-caliber back when he became a finalist in 2010. Chip Kelly may be gone, but the same system that saw the undersized James flourish remains under Mark Helfrich. James proved that a smaller back can shoulder a sizable load, rushing 294 times for 1731 yards.
Thomas may not have as considerable a workload. UO’s high octane system is predicated on a multifaceted attack. Quarterback Marcus Mariota is a capable ball carrier, and there are talented backs behind Thomas. There’s no guarantee he’ll even be the Ducks’ feature back with stud freshman Thomas Tyner on deck.
Yet, De’Anthony Thomas could still win the Heisman without rushing 250 times. Should his output remain in the neighborhood of 7 yards per carry and he get the call for 150 rushes, Thomas will surpass 1000 yards. While he’s unlikely to match last year’s run of a rushing touchdown every 8.4 carries, he could flirt with 20 touchdowns.
His importance to the passing game will result in another season of around 50 receptions — if not more. Thomas’ speed in the open field is critical to Oregon’s offense, and he’s more than capable of breaking off for more than just first downs. In 2011, he broke off nine receiving scores.
Add his explosiveness in the return game, and De’Anthony Thomas is one of those rare Heisman candidates capable of scoring in four different ways.
• 92 carries/701 yards (7.6 ypc)
• 11 rushing touchdowns
• 45 receptions/445 yards
• 5 receiving touchdowns
• 13 punt returns/222 yards
• 1 punt return touchdown/1 kick return touchdown
Compared To Past Heisman Winners
- Johnny Rodgers, 1972: The Nebraska utilityman was outstanding in both the run and pass games. He scored 10 rushing touchdowns in 1972, and another nine through the air.
The Cornhuskers Player of the Century was almost a prototype for Thomas. His versatility compensated for his lack of size; Rodgers was 5-foo-10, 180 pounds.
- Archie Griffin, 1975: The only two-time Heisman winner did so despite defying conventional wisdom of running backs. Griffin stood out in an era when other, bigger backs were taking home the award, like John Cappelletti, O.J. Simpson and Earl Campbell.
Griffin stood 5-foot-9, 190 pounds in his Ohio State days. In his second Heisman season, he added a receiving game to complement his outstanding rushing abilities.