De'Anthony Thomas Vs. Dri Archer: Cut From The Same Mold?
By Bill Lund
De’Anthony Thomas is regarded by some as the best running back potentially available for the 2014 NFL draft. His speed, explosiveness and big-play ability has helped Oregon to consecutive BCS bowl games.
Dri Archer is Kent State’s doppelganger of Thomas. Archer's elite speed and big-play ability helped propel the Golden Flashes into the MAC championship game and an appearance in the GoDaddy.com Bowl -- their first bowl game in 40 years.
Both players are utilized in similar fashion in their respective offenses. And they both exceled in track, with Thomas clocking a top 100-meters time of 10.31 seconds; he currently runs for Oregon's track team. Archer clocked a 10.49 while in high school.
Thomas has been on the radar of college fans ever since his explosive performances playing as a true freshman. Archer is slowly developing a following after his monster 2012 season. Would Archer be more highly regarded in a more high-profile program? Would he have the same success in the Pac-12 as Thomas?
Who will be the better NFL prospect?
De’Anthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon
Thomas has been a multi-faceted weapon for the Ducks for the past two seasons. Whether playing at running back or receiver, his speed creates explosive potential whenever he touches the ball. In 2011, Thomas made his college debut with 2,235 all-purpose yards and scored 18 touchdowns. In 2012, he had 701 yards rushing, averaging 7.6 yards per carry, on his way to amassing 1,757 all-purpose yards and another 18 touchdowns.
At 5-foot-9, 176 pounds, Thomas doesn’t possess the size scouts prefer for a back. But his play-making ability cannot be denied. As a running back, Thomas runs with good pad level. His change of direction is excellent, but it’s his ability to accelerate off the cut and separate from tacklers that makes him elite. Most of his runs out of the spread were designed to get him in space. Outside zone plays, speed option plays get Thomas in the open field where he can work at full speed. As an inside runner, Thomas uses his quickness in tight areas, but running between the tackles is not his strong suit.
As a receiver, Thomas shows the ability to extend his arms as a hands catcher. Though most of his routes were bubbles and screens, he demonstrates the ability to run deeper routes, looking fluid and natural on cuts.
Thomas is equally as deadly as a returner. He does not spend a lot of time running laterally, making a quick decision to take kicks or punts vertical with speed.
Thomas’ draft prospects will be determined by his continued playmaking ability and whether he can shoulder a greater load as a runner, both inside and outside.
Dri Archer, RB/WR, Kent State
In his breakout season, Archer rushed for 1,429 yards, averaging an astounding 9.0 yards per carry and scoring 16 touchdowns. Archer differs a bit from Thomas in his ability to run the ball inside as well as he does outside. His style is similar to Barry Sanders in that Archer runs with a low center of gravity and displays tremendous balance. He breaks tackles by deflecting hits rather than absorbing them. Kent State also will run Archer between the tackles using more traditional sets rather than spread sets.
Archer also led the Golden Flashes with 445 yards receiving with five more touchdowns. As a receiver, Archer show great ability in space. He will split out in the slot position and create mismatches on the inside with his speed. He is a body catcher on pass routes, a skill he will need to improve upon for NFL scouts. A decent route runner, most of his downfield routes tend to be seams or vertical routes, and he will need work on his breaks off cuts.
As a kick returner, Archer averaged 36.9 yards per return and scored three touchdowns. He is a game-breaker, with a 99-yard return and a pair of 98 yard returns in 2012. He finished fifth in all-purpose yardage for all of the FBS.
At 5-8, 175, Archer like Thomas does not have ideal NFL size. But with his reported 4.2 40-yard dash, Archer will garner serious looks from NFL personnel.
Who is the better draft prospect?
On the surface, it’s easy to assume Thomas is the better pro prospect, based only on the fact he has played against better competition. The same was assumed about Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher.
When you evaluate Archer's body of work from 2012, you can see how dynamically similar the two really are. Archer and Thomas have the same build, similar change of direction abilities and comparable speed.
As a running back, Archer has a slight edge. He runs bigger than listed and has performed in offensive schemes outside of the spread. As a receiver, Thomas has the edge with his ability to catch with his hands and a more refined ability to run routes downfield. Both players are excellent returners, though Thomas is a more accomplished punt returner compared to Archer (who had only one punt return attempt in 2012).Given that Thomas should have more touches with the departure of Kenjon Barner, his all-purpose output could push 3,000 yards.
Overall, Thomas has a slight edge, but scouts looking for a multi-purpose weapon will have two dynamic players to evaluate. Thomas has more notoriety playing for the Ducks. Going into the 2013 season, Archer may still be a bit of an unknown quantity. But by the time the 2014 draft comes around he may be the offensive weapon preferred by NFL teams.