EUGENE, OR - NOVEMBER 26: Running back De'Anthony Thomas #6 of the Oregon Ducks runs down the sidelines with a pass reception in the third quarter of the game against the Oregon State Beavers at Autzen Stadium on November 26, 2011 in Eugene, Oregon. The Ducks won the game 49-21 and clinched the Pac-12 North Division. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
The Black Mamba is a speed demon. De'Anthony Thomas turned almost every Oregon close matchup last season into a rout with his big score ability. He finds a crease in the open field and he's virtually a goner. It's why HeismanPundit has Thomas ranked among his top ten Heisiman candidates.
There's a lot to like about Thomas's candidacy. But on the flip side, there are definite reasons why Thomas might struggle to gain traction.
Kenjon Barner is the feature back
Doesn't Barner have to feel a bit miffed at all this attention hoisted on De'Anthony? This guy wasn't too far off LaMichael James numbers when he carried the football, with similar yards per carry and the potential to run with the football as much as LaMichael. So there's a very good chance that Barner, not Thomas.
It's really hard to say De'Anthony is the main Heisman contender for the Ducks since Barner (and whoever Oregon's quarterback will be) is the focal point of the offense and helps make everything go. If Barner runs well, it allows Thomas to run well. I doubt the reverse could be true here. It'll be hard to ignore Thomas's success and not think that Barner played a huge part in his accomplishments.
The Reggie Bush factor
The similarities between Thomas and Bush are too distinct to ignore. Speedsters, gamebreakers, all-purpose players who can produce big plays on any carry that they have the football.
However, Bush was a workhorse. He carried the ball 285 times, including 200 times on the ground (so about 20-25 carries a game). Bush paired up with Lendale White, but he was no complementary back. Thomas, meanwhile, had only two games of 15+ touches.
Bush had to have nearly a full season of these performances to edge out contenders like Vince Young. It's likely that if Thomas has any dropoff in a competitive Pac-12, his campaign could fly by the wayside. That is the danger of being a specialist. It doesn't take much for the production to drop off.
He's not a quarterback, nor is he really a running back
Quarterbacks have won 10 of the last 12 Heisman Trophys. The only other Trophy winner in the new millennium who didn't automatically receive the football every snap was Mark Ingram of Alabama.
Even regular solid RBs are having trouble winning this award. LaMichael James was every bit as explosive as Thomas and far more of an everydown back, but he got edged out by quarterbacks. Toby Gerhart didn't win it (although he did lose to Ingram), nor did Darren McFadden, nor did Adrian Peterson. It probably causes Barner trouble, but it could really cause a problem for a guy who really plays all over the field in Thomas.
So, unless Thomas wins the starting QB job, I wouldn't go all-out betting on the Black Mamba to bring hardware home. Not even as a dark horse. There's a lot he'd have to deal with and a lot he'd have to produce with the limited amount of carries he'll probably receive in this offense, and he'd have to be absolutely spectacular with that small set to overshadow the difference-makers at the quarterback position.
Chip Kelly for Heisman
It's hard not to think that Kelly doesn't deserve some measure of success for anything that happens with Oregon's offense, and Thomas is just the most spectacular weapon on there. But it's the quarterback and tailback who are the main options, and the whole system just runs so well as a unit that it's hard to give credit to one person above everyone else.
When Bush won his Heisman, it partly came to him because his quarterback had already won his. Thomas might have a lot of credit to share for a successful season, because that Oregon offense belongs to Kelly.