Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas to enter the NFL draft

Oregon junior running back De'Anthony Thomas (6) warms up along the sidelines. The No. 10 Oregon Ducks play the Texas Longhorns in the Alamo Bowl at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas on Dec. 30, 2013. (Michael Arellano/Emerald)

Oregon junior running back De'Anthony Thomas (6) warms up along the sidelines. The No. 10 Oregon Ducks play the Texas Longhorns in the Alamo Bowl at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas on Dec. 30, 2013. (Michael Arellano/Emerald)

Posted by Victor Flores on Sunday, Jan. 5 at 5:31 pm.

Running back De’Anthony Thomas announced on Sunday, his 21st birthday, that he will pass up his senior season for the Ducks and enter the NFL draft.

“I am officially withdrawing from the University of Oregon to pursue a professional career in the NFL,” Thomas said in a prepared statement. “I want to express my deepest appreciation and thanks to the University and all of my teammates, coaches and fans. I look forward to staying connected to the University and visiting the sidelines as often as possible.”

Thomas posted some tweets about an hour after the announcement, too.

Thomas played three seasons at Oregon and was productive in several facets. He rushed for 1,890 yards and 26 touchdowns and had 1,296 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns. He also set records for total yardage on kick returns (1,885) and kick return average (17.1).

“De’Anthony has been a spectacular talent in college football and has been a part of some of the most memorable plays in the history of the University of Oregon,” head coach Mark Helfrich said. “We wish him success going forward with his career.”

Two of Thomas’ biggest plays came in Oregon’s 45-38 Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin in 2011. On both of his carries that game, Thomas found the end zone. The first was a 91-yard scamper at the end of the first quarter. The other, a 64-yarder to give the Ducks a 35-28 lead at the beginning of the third quarter.

The following year in the Fiesta Bowl, Thomas took the opening kickoff back 94 yards for a touchdown. The Ducks won 35-17 over Kansas State.

Thomas looked like he’d be a superstar, especially after his freshman year. He rushed for 595 yards (10.8 yards per carry) and seven touchdowns, compiled 605 receiving yards and nine touchdowns and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns that season.

But Thomas never took off like many expected him to.

His numbers the following year stayed about the same. In 2013, Thomas fell off. He missed four games and was much less productive after the injury. In the Alamo Bowl, his final game as a Duck, Thomas rushed for 13 yards on three carries and caught two passes for 24 yards. He only had one return for 25 yards, as well.

Thomas also caused some controversy earlier this season, telling reporters he wasn’t that excited about the prospect of playing in another Rose Bowl.

“It’s not a big deal at all,” Thomas said after a practice on Nov. 18. “We already won a Rose Bowl, so it feels like, ‘Whatever.’”

Fans and writers blasted Thomas for those comments, especially after Oregon’s 42-16 loss to Arizona five days later. It didn’t help that Thomas played poorly in the last half of the season, excluding the Arizona game (he led the Ducks with 83 rushing yards and 74 receiving yards against the Wildcats).

Now, Thomas will prepare for May’s NFL draft, and where he will be selected is unknown. Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller projects him as a third-round pick, but CBS Sports expects him to be selected in the seventh and final round.

The draft is five months away, though, and Thomas still has programs like February’s NFL Scouting Combine. Thomas has blazing speed and if he puts up good speed numbers at the combine, he might climb up draft boards.

His future might be uncertain, but he has support from several people, including his running backs coach at Oregon, Gary Campbell.

“I will certainly hate to see De’Anthony leave, but I understand and agree with his decision to enter the 2014 NFL draft,” Campbell said. “He’s had an exciting career at Oregon, and now it’s time to move on to the next level. I wish him mega success in his new endeavors.”

Follow Victor Flores on Twitter @vflores415