The Chicago Bears this week brought in two veteran running backs for workouts, Javon Ringer and Phillip Tanner, ostensibly to kick on the tires on a pair of potential backups for Matt Forte. Yet neither player is an accomplished ball carrier, with Tanner averaging just 2.7 yards per carry during his career.
One might get an invite to training camp to compete with Michael Ford for the club's No. 2 job, yet more likely, the Bears will draft a young ball carrier to serve as a change-of-pace back.
To that end, the Bears this week will visit with former Oregon running back De'Anthony Thomas. Let's go to the film room gauge Thomas's potential as a future Bear.
De'Anthony Thomas (5-9, 174)40-yard dash: 4.50
Bench press: 8
Vertical jump: 32.0
Broad jump: 10-4
Pros-Outstanding quickness. Can stop and start on a dime. Ability to change directions makes a lot of defenders miss, fly right by.
-Good receiver. Worked in the slot and out wide. Huge mismatch for linebackers. Runs entire route tree, not just underneath and intermediate stuff.
-Shows good field vision. Able to slip through tiny cracks. Would fit well in a zone-blocking scheme.
-Uncanny ability to avoid tacklers. Shifty to the extreme.
-Small but can carry the pile when he has a head of steam.
-Dangerous in open space. Bubble screens can turn to touchdowns on any given play.
Cons-Hasn't broken a legitimate tackle in his career.
-Could be a product of Oregon's up-tempo offense. Will he be as good at the next level, where defenses actually get more than five seconds to rest between plays?
-He's fast but doesn't show elite speed on tape.
-Good but not great hands. Alligator arms in traffic.
-Hesitant as a kick returner. If blocking isn't there, he's not going to get much on his own.
-Doesn't have short-yardage power.
-Not asked to pass protect much for the Ducks.
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY
Thomas is arguably the most explosive ball carrier in this year's draft. He flies to the edge and turns the corner in a heartbeat. Between the tackles, he sees the entire field and is used to finding his own hole in Oregon's zone-blocking system.
Yet he's more valuable as a receiver, where his quickness and speed could create nightmares for opposing linebackers and safeties. There isn't a linebacker in the league who can keep pace with Thomas one-on-one on a free-release fly route. He has the potential to be a slighter version of Darren Sproles.
Thomas is also an experienced kick and punt returner, one who can break long gains when given a crease. He scored four return touchdowns during three years at Oregon, where he holds the school's all-time record for average punt return yards (17.1).
Under the bright lights at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, Thomas folded during the 40-yard dash, a drill in which most expected him to shine. He posted a 4.50, which was only slightly faster than defensive end Jadeveon Clowny (4.53). He reportedly ran in the 4.3s at his pro day, alleviating some of the concerns about his speed, although he didn't show well in the quickness drills.
Thomas' size – he's one of the smallest players in this year's class – is worrisome in terms of potential injuries. It's hard to imagine him getting up after a flush hit by Patrick Willis. Thomas also lacks strength, posting just eight strength lifts at the combine, which has brought into question his preparation and dedication to the game.
As a part-time player and return man, Thomas can carve out a niche with the Bears, who parted ways with Devin Hester this offseason. In addition, his prowess as a receiver would be very valuable amidst all the weapons on Chicago's offense.
Thomas is considered a fifth- or sixth-round pick. The Bears are in need of a short-yardage back who is good in pass protection. Thomas doesn't fit that bill. Yet as a dynamic weapon in the passing game and a big-play returner, he might be worth the risk in the later rounds. Reaching on Thomas though, considering his obvious limitations, wouldn't make much sense.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.