It had been expected that head coach Chip Kelly would lose LaMichael James to the NFL after this season. But Saturday night, junior quarterback Darron Thomas stunned the program with the decision to also forgo his final season of eligibility and head off to the pros.
Thomas, NFLDraftScout.com's No. 12 rated quarterback in the 2013 class, may be making a terrible decision.
The 6-3, 215 pound Thomas has put up impressive statistics in Kelly's offense. Last season he completed 62% of his passes for 2,761 yards and a sparkling touchdown to interception ratio of 33-7. Considering that Thomas also ran for 206 yards and three scores, he was among the most effective all-purpose quarterbacks in the country and played a critical role in Oregon's run to the Rose Bowl championship and No. 4 ranking. He also boasts one of the more impressive career accomplishments any college quarterback can hope to have -- having thrown for at least one touchdown in every one of his career starts (27). In 31 games over his career Thomas passed for 5,910 yards, 66 touchdowns and just 17 interceptions.
That said, Thomas on tape doesn't necessarily match his hype.
Thomas' prodution is inflated due to Oregon's aggressive scheme and explosive athletes. He averaged 8.14 yards gained each time he even attempted a pass in 2011. He flashes good touch down the seams and enough zip to complete crossing routes over the middle, he isn't the elite passer his statistics would suggest. Too many of his passes forced receivers to adjust their routes, limiting opportunities for even bigger plays. Furthermore, he did not show much improvement in his second season as a starter despite playing in a relatively simple offense.
Kelly offered a luke warm opinion on Thomas' decision.
“As in all cases, we educate our players with the information we feel will be beneficial to them throughout the process but ultimately, the decision is left up to the players,” Kelly said. “I will always support Darron in his decision and want to thank him for everything he has done for this program. He obviously has played a major role in elevating Oregon football to new heights and I wish him well in the future.”
Thomas has talent but is viewed by scouts as a significant project. That fact could push him into late portions of the draft (or worse), especially considering that he comes with off-field baggage. Remember, Thomas was the passenger with former Duck cornerback Cliff Harris on the night Harris was pulled over for speeding in a car rented by a Oregon employee. Harris was clocked at 118 miles per hour, was driving without a license and admitted to police he had been smoking marijuana. Thomas' reaction to questions from the media regarding his role in the incident falls a bit short of inspirational.
Thomas is the second Pac-12 quarterback to attempt to fill the vacancy left when Matt Barkley made his decision to return Southern Cal. He joins Andrew Luck and Arizona State's Brock Osweiler as early entries from the conference.