University of Oregon junior running back De'Anthony Thomas announced he is leaving the Ducks to enter the 2014 NFL Draft.
Thomas is an electrifying open-field runner, but is undersized at just 5-feet-9 and 170 pounds and is currently projected as a seventh-round prospect according to NFLDraftScout.com ratings. He is the No. 20-rated running back prospect for 2014 and the No. 239-rated overall prospect.
"I am officially withdrawing from the University of Oregon to pursue a professional career in the NFL," Thomas said in a statement Sunday. "I want to express my deepest appreciation and thanks to the University and all of my teammates, coaches and fans. I look forward to staying connected to the University and visiting the sidelines as often as possible."
Thomas' announcement continued a busy day of reports of underclassmen ready to make the NFL leap. The deadline for underclassmen to declare their intentions is Jan. 15, and the current list of prospects expected to enter the 2014 draft stands at 61 and is on pace to shatter last year's record of 73.
Thomas missed three games and most of a fourth because of injuries this season, but he still rushed for 594 yards and eight touchdowns. His 5,345 career all-purpose yards in just three years ranks third all-time for the Ducks. Thomas holds Oregon records for kickoff return yards (1,885) and punt return average (17.1).
To make an NFL roster, Thomas will need to impress with his versatility. He lacks the size to contribute on more than spot duty out of the backfield, but was often split out wide as a receiver for the Ducks and is an explosive threat in the return game.
He was one of the most feared running backs in the country over the past two seasons, despite sharing the backfield duties and working through injuries in 2013. NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst Rob Rang described Thomas' ability to make defenders miss as "serpent-like." Thomas often did most of his damage for the Ducks by taking short passes and creating yards after the catch.
"Despite his gaudy production, Thomas' lack of bulk makes him a tough evaluation for the NFL," Rang wrote in evaluating Thomas. "Some are sure to question his role in the pros, as he won't see the wide-open running lanes in the NFL as he's found in college football. However, as evidenced by (the 2012 draft), the NFL is evolving into a league in which players who can make defenders miss in the open field are much more highly valued than ever before.
"The St. Louis Rams' bold trade up for diminutive wideout Tavon Austin and the Cincinnati Bengals' decision to bypass other, more traditional backs for similarly elusive runner Giovani Bernard as the first running back drafted in 2013 provides evidence of the league's new emphasis on playmakers. As such, Thomas' incredible combination of lateral agility, balance and acceleration could demand" that he is drafted earlier than many project.