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Spotlight: Daniel Thomas

posted by Chris Smith on Aug 6th


Chris Smith's thoughts

Two seasons ago, the Miami Dolphins considered their running back stable one of the strengths of the team. Ronnie Brown was in the prime of his career and Ricky Williams was a more than capable backup. Both backs brought exciting skills to the table but fast forward a couple of seasons and the winds of change have come blowing in on the Dolphins and their rushing game.

Exit Brown and Williams and enter rookie Daniel Thomas from Kansas State. Thomas is a huge back at 6-2 and 230 pounds and he thrives on pounding the ball on opposing defenses. He is more than just a power back though as he has the agility to make defenders miss as well as run them over. The Dolphins will give him every chance to grab the bull by the horns and become a 20-carry per game player for the team this year.

One of the best attributes in regards to Thomas is his vision on the football field. Thomas was a quarterback in high school and he has a really good idea of how a play is developing and where to hit the holes. His vision is outstanding for a young running back and he is a load to bring down in the open field. His 19 rushing touchdowns in 2010 illustrates he has a real knack of getting the ball into the end zone. He will have a real opportunity to put up big numbers in 2011.

QUESTIONS ABOUT DANIEL THOMAS FOR 2011

Can Thomas make an immediate impact with the lost team practice time due to lockout?
This is a question that will be asked of many rookie players in 2011. It is challenging enough to be a rookie in the NFL but with a late start to the season, teams, coaching staffs and players will all be up against the wall to make everything work this year. That will make it even more difficult for rookies in 2011. That said, the running back position is one of the easier ones to transition to the NFL as running with the ball is similar in all levels of football and it is more the speed of the game and pass blocking that changes.

Will Thomas get the bulk of the work as a rookie?
At this time it appears the answer is 'YES' by default. Many fantasy owners are likely to be scared away by the Dolphins acquisition of Reggie Bush, but therein lies an opportunity. No matter what Bush may be saying about his role, history tells us he is NOT a threat to Thomas' workload. Bush will be a factor on third downs and as a slot receiver, but Thomas' fantasy value wasn't going to be tied to his reception totals anyway. Bush has 106 TOTAL carries in the last two seasons and is the very antithesis of durable, particularly between the tackles.

Is the Dolphins offensive line good enough for Thomas to put up good numbers?
The Dolphins offensive line underachieved last season and as a result, the club targeted center Mike Pouncey in the first round of the April draft. Pouncey has all the tools necessary to have a wonderful NFL career and he is a huge upgrade at center for the team. Jake Long is one of the best tackles in the league, and the addition of grizzled veteran Marc Columbo opens up the possibility of Vernon Carey being moved inside to guard. Overall, the Dolphins line should be more effective this season.

Positives

  • Thomas has the perfect build to be an NFL workhorse back
  • The Dolphins offensive line has potential to be quite good in 2011
  • Carried almost 300 times and scored 19 touchdowns on an average Kansas State team

Negatives

  • Reggie Bush will snake a few rushing touchdowns and take away most of Thomas' opportunities as a receiver
  • Offensive line's potential did not equal production last season
  • Quarterback situation still on shaky ground.

Final thoughts

Looking at the offensive line, the Dolphins should be able to run the ball this season. At 6'2" and 230 pounds, Daniel Thomas can be a guy to pound the ball. A former quarterback in high school, he plays with a real understanding of the game and has tremendous vision. He pass blocks well and does have the ability to catch the football. If given the opportunity this year in Miami, he could surprise with 300 carries, 1300 yards and 8-10 touchdowns.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

mjr said:

Daniel Thomas reminds me a lot of Mike Alstott and I can see him having a career reflecting Alstott's circa '98/'99 seasons (regardless of who MIA brings in during FA). He may not become that perennial 1000 yard back every fantasy footballer would like to have, but he can be a guy who can help increase MIA's first down percentage and will most often get the ball in goal line situations.

rzrback77 said:

When considering the rookie Daniel Thomas, I wanted to look at the recent Miami offense. I know that it has been pedestrian, but I really haven't watched a lot or even paid close attention to their preferences.

Miami in 2010 rushed the ball 444 times, with the majority (389 carries) going to the RBs. They were definitely one of the league's many RBBC teams. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams were the two most featured RBs. Brown had five games with over 15 carries and Williams had only two. Each of them played in all 16 games. Brown averaged 12.5 rushes per game and Williams 10.0. They passed the ball 555 times, so they passed 55.6% of their plays from scrimmage.

The year earlier, in 2009 rushed the ball 510 times, still with an even larger majority (455 carries) going to the RBs. They were a little less RBBC because Brown was injured and only played nine games and his back-ups were less involved. Brown had six of his nine games with over 15 carries and Williams had only eight, with six of those after the Brown injury. Brown averaged 17.7 rushes per game and Williams 12.5. They passed the ball 538 times, so they passed 51.3% of their plays from scrimmage.

When both backs were healthy, their offensive preference was to involve both backs. Maybe this was due at least in part to the two backs that they had, hard to tell.

Daniel Thomas was a slow starter as he spent two years in JC and played QB in high school. He was definitely productive in his two seasons at K State. In looking at film, he seemed to have good vision and occasionally could make one guy miss. He definitely does not have blazing speed and won't outrun many in the NFL. To me, he looked good, but not great.

I think that Miami knowing the age of Williams (34 already) and the injury history of Ronnie Brown felt an RB crush at the draft similar to the way many teams were at QB, which in my opinion led to overdrafting several QBs. I don't necessarily think that Thomas was overdrafted, but I do think that Miami felt an urgency to get a RB.

It is much more likely that they will be able to sign one of Brown or Williams to a more minor contract, with their age and history combined with the fact that they drafted a rookie. I do think it is likely that one of them will return and keep the Dolphin RBBC intact. They could also sign a free agent, but to me they do not seem like a team that has that one glaring need to dominate. They seem more like a struggling team in a tough division that is trying to survive.

Zdravko said:

I agree with the argument that sacks should be counted as pass plays conceptually, but for projection purposes I'd just usually assume the same number of sacks and distribute to the QB accordingly as carries.

Rzrback's approach to look at the 2009 and 2010 pass/run and carry distributions is exactly the model I went with here. However, I expect a minor adjustment in offensive philosophy, leading to more clearly defined specialization (compared to the essentially Ricky = Ronnie model). I see Thomas as the clear-cut primary back with very limited involvement on passing downs. I see someone like Lex Hilliard being used for short relief spells. I see a third-down specialist like Sproles coming on-board or, alternatively, Ronnie being used in that role.

So, to sum it up, my projections reflect very limited competition for Thomas as a primary carrier and GL back, but also fewer catches.

225 rushes, 4.1 ypc, 920 yards, 8 TDs
24 targets, 17 receptions, 110 yards, 0 TDs


Daniel Thomas projections

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