Rumors were flying on Twitter that something bad/surprising was going to happen with regards to an Oregon football player. This time of year we often hear news that a few players plan to transfer or quit football altogether for one reason or another. Many were caught off-guard when it was announced that junior Oregon QB Darron Thomas planned to skip his senior season and enter the NFL Draft.
I didn’t even include Thomas in my list of prospects for the 2013 draft, when he would have completed his senior season. Many believe that his skills are ill-suited to the NFL-style of offense. Several QB’s have made successful transitions from college spreads to conventional NFL systems, but for every one that succeeds, there are many more who fail to make an impact at the next level.
For all the talk, there isn’t yet much analysis out there on the subject of Darron Thomas’ prospects for the Draft. Here is my quick scouting report and where I believe he’ll end up:
- Unflappable; puts mistakes behind him and doesn’t let them affect the next drive. Doesn’t play with fear of the defense or of the situation the team is in.
- Master of tempo; Thomas had Oregon’s offense running at it’s quickest-ever pace. He’ll bring rare experience at quickly getting the offense set and ready to run the next play.
- Moves well in the pocket; though not overly fast, buys extra time by moving around in the pocket. Has good sense for the pass rush and keeps his eyes downfield when a play breaks down.
- Slow, winding throwing motion; in college a QB can succeed in spite of a slow delivery. In the NFL, that wasted motion is all a DB needs to jump in front of a route.
- Marginal arm strength; when throwing on the move, Thomas winds up his motion a bit more and noticeably drives hard off his back leg. QBs do that to get more behind their throws.
- Questionable accuracy; no Oregon QB has had the luxury of having receivers as routinely wide-open as Thomas. Too many of his throws catch his receivers off-stride.
Thomas’ best move may have been hiring famed agent Drew Rosenhaus. Doing so instantly legitimized his draft chances, as he’ll have a respected advocate and access to the best Draft preparation services. Short of a major refinement to his throwing motion, it’s hard to imagine that Thomas’s draft stock would have improved after his senior season. Also helpful is that Matt Barkley of USC and Landry Jones of Oklahoma chose to return for their senior seasons. If he demonstrates accuracy at his pro day, and if Rosenhaus campaigns NFL teams tirelessly on his behalf, we could see Thomas chosen sometime in the last two rounds of the draft. My honest take is that Thomas will go undrafted, but will sign with a team as of the more coveted Undrafted Free Agents.
The NFL Draft is still several months away, there to help football fans fill the void created when the season finally ends in early February. But for college players with aspirations of playing at the next level, the next few months are a non-stop journey of preparation, all for a goal which may never be realized.
Projecting into the NFL is never easy, as there are numerous factors which can affect a player’s draft position and potential for success in the league. At best it’s a high-stakes guessing game, attempting to place players into their spots based on their fit for NFL schemes, physical skills and proficiency at their projected position. At that level it doesn’t matter what their stats were in college, or how many stars they had coming out of high school.
Oregon has seen increased success in the number of former players who have moved on to the NFL; this year’s crop of potential draft picks is small due to the small number of seniors on Oregon’s roster. I’ve put together this list of prospects for this year’s draft, based on my own observations and a survey of early scouting reports:
LaMichael James, RB – capped a brilliant career at Oregon with an impressively quiet performance in the Rose Bowl, with 25carries for 159 yards and a TD. James isn’t stout enough to carry a full load in the NFL, where he won’t find the running lanes he had against Pac-12 defenses. He does possess great speed, patience to set up blocks in front of him, and is a solid receiver. This past year he proved he could be a solid return man as well. While smallish third-down backs aren’t supposed to be drafted high, Remember, the Kansas City Chiefs spent a 2nd-round pick on the much smaller (and less productive) Dexter McCluster. LaMichael should be drafted by the middle of the 2nd-round, and I predict he may sneak into the bottom first-round with a strong performance at the NFL Combine.
Eddie Pleasant, S – some scouts have rated Pleasant low due to what they perceive (incorrectly) as a lack of speed. In the NFL he projects as a safety much in the mold of former Duck T.J. Ward. Pleasant only began to appear comfortable at the position this past year, and despite improvements he still looked raw in coverage. He needs to take advantage of the opportunity to showcase his agility and coverage skills in the postseason workouts and allstar games. Expect that Pleasant’s draft prospects will directly follow his peformance at these events.
David Paulson, TE – will receive praise for his high-level of character and his amazing ability to catch the football. As much as we love him, he’s no better than a mid-round prospect due to his lack of speed, bulk, and ability to run after the catch. There will always be a place for a reliable receiving tight end in the NFL, and he will certainly prove to be that. He should compare favorably to Dennis Pitta, the former BYU tight end now playing alongside former Duck Ed Dickson with the Ravens. His lack of measurables will drop him in the draft, but I expect he’ll prove his worth once he gets into training camp.
Lavasier Tuinei, WR – his 8 catch, 158 yard, 2 TD performance in the Rose Bowl demonstrated his capability as a downfield threat. Tuinei has made a name for himself at Oregon with his blocking, an underrated skill which should endear him to NFL scouts. Has rare height/speed/hands combination, and should ensure he is selected. Concerns about him are lack of quickness and his ability to beat pro-caliber press coverage.
Mark Asper , OL – another high-character player who certainly has the size and strength to play in the NFL. Struggled against LSU along with the rest of the Duck linemen, which may harm his draft prospects when evaluated as level of competition. His smarts, maturity and ability to play multiple positions should earn him a roster spot.
Josh Kaddu, LB – at 6’3″, 235 he is Oregon’s most NFL-ready LB from a physical standpoint. Inconsistent, with a tendency to disappear for long stretches despite being on the field. Showed decent ability to rush the passer, which should get him a look in the pros.
Darrion Weems, OT – has the size to fit in with an NFL O-Line, but hasn’t held up well against strong competition in college. If he pursues it he should earn a training camp spot, but I don’t see a long NFL career for him based on what he showed at Oregon.
Anthony Gildon, CB – had trouble staying on the field throughout his career, but at CB his listed 6’1″ height and 39.5″ vertical leap are sure to attract some attention from scouts. If he stays healthy he could become a late-bloomer, carving out a niche covering tall WR’s in the NFL.
Dewitt Stuckey, LB – made his way into the starting lineup with the departure of Casey Matthews and the early-season disciplinary issues of Kiko Alonso. Finished 3rd on the team with 69 tackles, with 6 tackles for loss and 3 sacks. Has enough speed to compete in the NFL, but is undersized and a bit inexperienced. Smaller LBs in the NFL must possess strong coverage skills, which he didn’t display in 2011.
Top Duck Prospects for the 2013 Draft
Kenjon Barner, RB – strong receiver with great football speed. He will have every chance to prove himself after LaMichael James’ departure.
John Boyett, S – both quick and fast, with above-average strength for a safety. Great tackler, and is one of the best coverage safeties the Ducks have had in years.
Dion Jordan, DE – had 13 tackles for loss this past season. Rare combination of height, strength and speed at DE.
Michael Clay, LB – a bit undersized, but has the speed, skills and strength of character to succeed at the next level.
If you’ve followed Oregon football in recent years (and I’ll assume you have), you may have noticed the wealth of talent the Ducks have deployed. Jonathan Stewart, Jeremiah Johnson, LeGarrette Blount are all in the NFL, soon to be followed by current Ducks LaMichael James and Kenyon Barner.Right there in the mix has been Andre Crenshaw, the speedy running back who from 2006 through 2009 helped keep the chains moving in the fast-paced Duck offense.
Several years after leaving the University of Oregon, Andre had been out of football until recently signing with Sioux Falls Storm of the Indoor Football League. Andre was kind enough to talk with me after finalizing his deal with the Storm.
RB – University of Oregon, 2006-2009
Hometown: Lancaster, CA (Antelope Valley HS)
Rushing Attempts: 160
Rushing Yards: 703
Rushing TDs: 8
Congrats on your recent signing. What kind of skills can you bring to the Storm this season?
Everything, I’m going to try to do as much as I can to help the team out. They’re gonna look at me at running back, little bit of wide receiver and probably do some special teams. Kind of similar things I was doing at Oregon; just doing the best that I can to help the team out as much as possible.
Do you think you’ll wind up going both ways? How are your coverage skills?
I haven’t tried to play any defense in a while. I played a lot in high school; a lot of colleges recruited me to play defense coming out of high school, but I wanted to go the offensive route. It’s up to the coach, if he wants me to play defense I’ll try to play defense. I’ll definitely give it a try…my options are wide open right now. I haven’t played football in two years, so my options are wide open.
How have you been keeping yourself in shape?
I’ve just been doing a lot of everything. A lot of boxing, training, and a lot of playing basketball. I haven’t been doing as much weightlifting. I didn’t want to be all bulky, because I didn’t know if I was going to get the chance to play football again. So I didn’t want to be all bulky, I just wanted to be slim and ready whenever someone gave me this opportunity.
Have you ever been out to South Dakota? How far east have you been?
It’s crazy that you said that, I just moved back from a job in Miami. I was working out in Miami doing some online marketing-type stuff. It really wasn’t something that I wanted to do, so I moved back home. It was a weird situation, me getting in contact with the Sioux Falls coaches because one of my really good friends actually played football at the University of South Dakota, and that’s where I was. They were like, “You know what you should do, you should give the Sioux Falls coaches a call, send them your tape. They probably would like you.” And that’s what I did. Somebody actually just talked me into doing it; I wasn’t actually going to do it at first. I was a little skeptical because they are a good team…16-0, five-time defending champs. I’ve been in contact with other IFL teams and some of it didn’t work out. I was kind of skeptical about the whole thing and I just hit them up, we had a meeting with the coach, and he was excited to bring me in. I’m excited to be a part of the team.
The Storm’s season starts on February 26th. Do you know how cold it gets in South Dakota that time of year?
Oh yes! I was just out there, Wednesday, of last week. I was out there for three weeks, and one day I woke up in the morning to go outside, and it was -2 outside. I was like “This is crazy!” I’ve never been in weather like this before, I’ve never seen icicles in my life; it was a very different experience for me.
What do you see as your biggest weakness on the field, and how have you worked over the course of your Oregon career to address it?
I think my biggest weakness as of right now would be just getting on the field and playing again, and getting into the groove of playing football. I’ve been behind some really good guys, and every guy that I’ve been behind has made it into the NFL. I’ve just been in position where I didn’t get on the field as much, or didn’t get my opportunity as much. Just me being about to get back into the flow of playing football, and doing it all over again, especially going to be me starting all over again, putting in the hard work and giving everything I’ve got to make it work for myself. That’s the biggest thing for me, getting back on the field and getting into the rhythm of playing football.
How would you sell yourself to prospective employers as far as what you can bring, on the field and in the locker room?
Character. I’m a big character guy, A lot of guys at Oregon when I was there, I helped them out in a lot of different ways. If it was the playbook, or them coming to me, talking to me about life in general, or wanting to go home when it comes to freshmen. I love to help the team out, all about the team, making everything work for everybody else. When it comes down to it, it’s not all about yourself. There are eleven guys on the field, and you all got to work together to accomplish the same goal.
Physical-wise, I’m a running back. I love catching the ball out of the backfield, which is something I didn’t get to do much at Oregon. I feel it will be a big thing when I come to this IFL team.
Tell me about how the circumstances behind your recruiting, and your decision to come to Oregon.
It basically came to down me being a competition guy. I love competition, and I was always in the mix when it came to playing time at Oregon. I was always in the rotation, somewhere. The biggest thing was the camaraderie and the relationship I felt with Jonathan (Stewart) when I first got here. Me and him, on my recruiting trip, you would have thought we were brothers, best friends, and we had only been together for hours. It’s the way we connected as friends, and I knew coming in, I would learn so much from him, from Jeremiah (Johnson) and guys that were already on the roster. They were young and they had played as freshmen, and they knew what it took to be at that level. So I knew that coming in, it was going to be a good road ahead. I knew those guys would help me grow as a person and as a player when I got here.
What was your favorite part of being a Duck?
The fans. The fans were…great. They loved you, even if you played or not. Even if you were a redshirt freshman, a senior, or even out of school. They loved you. Seeing the fans, the kids on the fan days that we had. It’s exciting to see the fans and how excited they get for Oregon football. The (high) school I went to, they were excited about football, but it wasn’t anything like this. So, that was the biggest thing for me.
According to team sources, former Oregon Duck running back Andre Crenshaw has signed with the reigning IFL champion Sioux Falls Storm. The deal comes after several years outside of football for Crenshaw, who played for the Ducks from 2006 through 2009.
More details to come.