There has been some talk about what the Chiefs plan to do with De’Anthony Thomas and how he fits in the offense. He’s listed as a running back and we know him for his return skills, but there is some concern if he can translate to wide receiver.
Part of this comes with the Dexter McCluster experience, who was a pure running back coming out of college and then got bounced around with the Chiefs as a part-time receiver and part-time running back. In fact, McCluster’s best season as a Chief according to Pro Football Focus was the one year McCluster was purely a running back.
I don’t see Thomas as DeSean Jackson, but I do see him as a guy Andy Reid can use to attack opponent’s weaknesses. Thomas has such great speed and excellent agility that getting him in the right matchups could equal a lot of big plays for Kansas City.
To give an example of what I’m getting at, I thought I’d show you five plays from Oregon’s Fiesta Bowl win over Kansas State in January of 2013. Why this game? First, I was there in person and saw Thomas’ speed in the flesh. Second, it is a good game to use as an example of how Thomas can be used in limited action but still be incredibly effective.
I was able to count 20 plays from scrimmage where Thomas could be definitively found on the field. This is where he was lined up for those 20 plays.
Running Back: 4
Tight End/Slot: 4 (?)
It is important to me that Thomas was more likely to be found as a wide receiver than in the backfield. The next time Thomas is asked by Reid to lineup in the slot it won’t be his first time being there.
Let’s get to the five plays.
0:00 – Kick Return (Touchdown)
So much speed. There’s nothing special about making Anthony Cantele look silly, but the speed Thomas displays here is stunning. Put that speed with Dave Toub’s schemes and we can expect some exciting things for the Chiefs again this season on kick returns.
The other thing to note here is how Thomas was able to set up his block before taking off. He caught the ball nearly on top of the sideline, let the wall develop, made one cut, and then was gone.
18:20 – Sweep (First Down)
In my quick raw count of when it was evident where Thomas lined up, Thomas was the primary running back in just four plays. This was one of them.
Again, you’ll notice how well Thomas is able to use his blocker in order to get the extra few yards. He doesn’t dance very much – at least not in this game – but takes what is available to him. A sweep with him is basically a screen because of how fast he gets to the edge.
I cannot image we’ll see this too much with Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis on the roster, but it is an option Andy Reid can use when trying to get Charles some rest.
20:48 – Wide Receiver Screen (Touchdown)
First, the center on this play completely lights up a K-State defender on this play, which helped spring things for Thomas to score.
Second, Thomas had three guys on top of him starting around the three yard line and Thomas still scored. One of those guys was Arthur Brown, who is in the NFL with Baltimore. Thomas isn’t going to break a ton of tackles but this was still fun to watch.
Third, Reid loves the screen game. Kansas City just drafted a guy who is built to execute the screen from anywhere on the field. Give him space and a blocker or two and he will create big plays. He doesn’t have to be an every down guy if he can pick up chunks of yards when he’s on the field.
Fourth and finally, good luck covering the flat against the Chiefs when Charles is going one way and Thomas is going the other. Obviously the attention will go to Charles but I like my chances with Thomas in one-on-one situations with a linebacker or safety on the other side. One would also think this will help open up the middle of the field, too.
1:21:57 – Wide Receiver Screen (Short Gain)
Back to what I was saying earlier, Thomas is a dude built for running screen plays. Chip Kelly was willing to run them in the red zone and in short yardage situations near the goal line. It will be interesting to see if Reid takes a play or two from Kelly and uses Thomas in the red zone like this.
Also, Thomas gets crushed by a defensive lineman on this play. The hit didn’t seem to phase Thomas much, which is a good sign.
1:28:17 – Seam (First Down)
Here’s where things can get really scary if the Chiefs are able to figure out a few things at wide receiver. Thomas lined up as a tight end – or around where at tight end would be if flanked out, anyway – at least four times in this game. This is one of those plays.
Kelly had Thomas attack the seam on a quick go route. This could be a nightmare for defenses if the Chiefs can get Thomas matched up on a linebacker. There is no way a linebacker is covering Thomas on this throw, and if the safety is out of position or off covering someone else then Thomas is scoring on this play every time.
To me the potential for this play only opens up if the Chiefs can come up with a reliable possession-type threat on the other side of Bowe. Getting the opposing secondary cheating towards the edge will open up all kinds of options for the Chiefs in the middle of the field. Right now, secondaries over-committing to Charles in the screen game or in the flat is the best option the Chiefs have in opening this play up for Thomas.
Thomas touched the ball just six times on plays from scrimmaged, but still amassed 75 yards and a touchdown. He added 120 yards and touchdown via the return game to those numbers. In total, that’s eight touches, 195 yards, and two touchdowns. Not a bad day.
De’Anthony Thomas isn’t going to turn into a Percy Harvin, let’s understand that right now.
However, Thomas could be a slightly better version of Dexter McCluster without the pressure of being a second round pick. Thomas has the benefit of having much more experience lining up as a wide receiver, something McCluster did not have coming out of Ole Miss, so it isn’t unthinkable that Thomas could contribute sooner rather than later.
Thomas in space will be one of those things that gets us on the edge of our seat every time. Kansas State had no one who could cover Thomas, especially in space. I’m not sure there is a linebacker in the AFC West who could cover Thomas one-on-one either. He’s so fast and so quick, knows how to use blockers, and can be moved all over the field.
There are plenty of flaws with Thomas as a player, but this game seems to encapsulate how Thomas can be used to beat a good opponent. Get him in the right situations with the right matchups and the Chiefs should get a lot of positive and big plays out of him.