10 Ways the Chiefs Used De'Anthony Thomas in 2014

De'Anthony Thomas was used in a variety of ways as a rookie for the Kansas City Chiefs

After the Kansas City Chiefs selected former Oregon playmaker De'Anthony Thomas in the fourth round of the 2013 draft (No. 124 overall), fans knew they were in for a few special moments during his rookie season.

He was a human highlight reel all throughout college, totaling 45 touchdowns in his three seasons at Oregon (2011-13).

Whether he was returning kicks, running the ball out of the backfield or catching passes out in space, Thomas just needed the ball in his hands and he'd find a way to make something happen.

So that was the plan once he arrived in Kansas City.

"You can move him all over," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said back at training camp. "You just have to make sure you ease him into it. You can't overload him; he's a young guy.

"The kid's got a lot of plays and he's handling it very well."

After starting the season with a hamstring issue, Thomas finally got healthy and made an impact for the Chiefs as a rookie.

Combining returns, carries and receptions, Thomas touched the ball 85 times in 2014. Those touches resulted in 1,102 yards, which is good for 12.9 yards per attempt.

While no return, carry or reception is alike, let's take a closer look at 10 different ways the Chiefs used Thomas in 2014.

Special Teams

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After the Chiefs first preseason game of the year against the Cincinnati Bengals, the buzz surrounding Thomas grew that much more.

He took a first quarter punt back 80 yards for a touchdown, prompting high praise from Chiefs special teams coach Dave Toub later that next week.

"His ability to make that first man miss, he's got that," Toub explained. "It's the same thing Devin Hester had."

Toub, who spent seven years with Hester in Chicago (2006-12), is one person who can make that statement and have it hold plenty of weight.

No. 1 – 81-yard punt return vs. Oakland Raiders (Week 15)

It wasn't until Week 15 against the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium that Thomas broke off a punt return touchdown in the regular season.

But he made it count thanks to some key blocks from Kelcie McCray, Daniel Sorensen, Charcandrick West and Junior Hemingway.

Thomas fielded the punt, made a decisive cut up the field and was gone. He put the Chiefs on the board in a must-win situation for them to keep their playoff hopes alive at the time.

"It was good to get De'Anthony loose there," Reid said after the game. "You can see offensively and on special teams when you get him in open space what he can do."

No. 2 – 78-yard kickoff return vs. New York Jets (Week 9)

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Thomas had just 14 attempts as a kick returner for the Chiefs in 2014, but his return against the New York Jets in Week 9 was just another example of what he could do in space.

With just over two minutes left before halftime, the Jets had cut the Chiefs' lead in half with a touchdown to bring the score to 14-7.

On the ensuing kickoff, Thomas went 78 yards to bring back any momentum that had swayed in the Jets' favor. That return set up a 12-yard Alex Smith touchdown pass to Travis Kelce that gave the Chiefs a 21-7 lead late in the first half.

Moving Thomas around in the passing game

One of the challenges for the Chiefs coaching staff was to find different ways to utilize Thomas' natural ability to make plays.

"He's explosive and you just try to get the ball in his hands," offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said. "You try to create ways each week to get him in space."

Here are a few different ways the Chiefs used Thomas in the passing game.

No. 3 - 17-yard touchdown reception vs. San Francisco 49ers (Week 4)

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On this play, Thomas initially started in a bunch-left formation with Dwayne Bowe and Anthony Fasano, but motioned next to Jamaal Charles in the backfield before the snap.

The play was a designed screen to Thomas. After the motion from Thomas before the snap, Smith could tell the 49ers were in zone coverage. The 49ers blitzed their nickelback on the play and center Rodney Hudson got out and down the field to block for this unconventional screen pass.

It looks like a normal swing pass that is run at every level of football, but it's a screen play with Hudson and left tackle Eric Fisher getting down the field to block for Thomas, who after a nice stiff arm of the defensive back behind the line of scrimmage, uses his elite burst to get down the field and into the end zone. This was Thomas' first career touchdown.

This is just one way the Chiefs got Thomas out in space with the ball in his hands.

No. 4 - 9-yard reception vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 16)

Another example was against the Steelers in Week 16, when the Chiefs used a variation of the zone-read action to get Thomas in space.

Charles and Thomas stood in the backfield together with Smith in a pistol formation.

After the snap, Smith carried the ball through the mesh point long enough on the fake run with Charles for the two play-side linebackers to hold (one on each level of defense), which gave Thomas more space once he caught the ball out in space.

It was a creative way to get Thomas the ball with a run action they used throughout the season.

Thomas raced up the field for the quick 9-yard gain.

No. 5 - 19-yard reception vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 16)

The Chiefs ran a very similar play as the 9-yard reception above later in the game, but this time it was with Knile Davis in the backfield and Thomas in the slot to the left.

They used a similar zone-read action but this time, Smith flipped it out to Thomas, who had receivers blocking in front of him and he took it 19 yards down the field for a nice gain.

The Chiefs were running similar plays out of different formations and with different personnel packages, all of which were designed to find different ways to get Thomas the ball in space. 

No. 6 - 12-yard reception vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 16)

Here's another example from the same game

Thomas went in motion before the snap and the Chiefs used run action in the backfield to get the defense flowing to their right before flipping the pass out to Thomas in the left flat.

By the time he caught the ball, Thomas had offensive linemen out in front of him on the screen and picked up a nice 12-yard gain on second-and-16. 

The timing between Thomas bluffing down the field and getting in position to catch the pass, the run action in the backfield with Smith and the linemen getting out in space to block is impressive to watch.

This takes a lot of work and repetition.

No. 7 - 6-yard reception vs. San Diego Chargers (Week 17)

With the Chiefs trailing 14-13 late in the third quarter, Thomas took a third-and-4 pass on a play that looked very similar to the 17-yard touchdown reception against the 49ers.

Rodney Hudson had a pancake block out on the edge against an unaware defensive back, and Thomas used his short area quickness and some nimble feet to pick up this third-down conversion, which set up the Chiefs go-ahead touchdown just a few plays later.

Thomas looked dead to rights after he caught the pass and initially turned up the field, but a key block from Hudson and a lot of athleticism helped him on this critical play in the game. 

On the season, Thomas caught 18 passes behind the line of scrimmage and those receptions resulted in 120 yards for the Chiefs offense.

He made plays with the ball in his hands.

Carrying the football

No. 8 - 26-yard run vs. New York Jets (Week 9)

The Chiefs found a way to get Thomas the ball on the move in the run game with a nice jet sweep around the right edge against the Jets in Week 9.

In a scoreless game and on the Chiefs' first offensive drive, Thomas went in motion and took the handoff immediately as he crossed by Smith and bent around the right edge before the defense knew what happened.

Anthony Fasano gave a free release to the defensive end and went to block the safety, who dropped down as Thomas had motioned to the right before the snap.

Thomas just needed to get past the defensive end before he was into open space, which he did and it resulted in a nice gain for the Chiefs offense.

The Chiefs used the jet-sweep action with Thomas throughout the season and he finished with 14 carries for 113 yards in the running game last season.

Thomas' key block against the Raiders


The top 10 ways the Kansas City Chiefs used De'Anthony Thomas during the season.


No. 9 – Thomas' block on Jamaal Charles' 15-yard run vs. OAK (Week 15)

One of Thomas' best plays of the season could have been one of his most surprising—a key block he made on Raiders veteran defensive back Charles Woodson on a Charles' 15-yard run.

Midway through the second quarter and with the Chiefs holding a 10-0 lead, Thomas motioned out of the backfield and ended up in the left slot.

Charles took the carry and broke off a nice run because of Thomas' block on Woodson on the outside.

Finally, his presence simply made a difference.

With all of these plays displaying Thomas' ability with the ball in his hands, fans held their breath every week when he had the ball out in space.

"He's such a unique guy and unique talent and has big play potential," quarterback Alex Smith said. "You're just giving defenses more to think about and to deal with and I think that's better for us as a whole."

As Smith eluded, defenses preparing for Thomas every week knew of his playmaking ability, which played into the Chiefs' hands at times.

No. 10 - Charles' 28-yard run vs Seattle Seahawks (Week 11)

On this play, the jet-sweep action from Thomas caught the attention of the Seahawks linebackers, who were flowing to the left at the time of the snap.

After the snap, their momentum kept them flowing to the left. They knew if Thomas took the handoff on the jet sweep, they were going to have to get out to the edge in a hurry, but all that flowing did was give right tackle Ryan Harris and right guard Zach Fulton the proper angles to make their blocks.

Once Charles had the ball in his hands, those two blocks, along with Hudson's, gave him a lane for a huge gain down the field.

Their blocks became easier because of the angles created by Thomas' motion.

Most people will remember this play as the one Travis Kelce had a pancake block on Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, but it was also a play that displays what Thomas' presence did for the Chiefs offense even when he wasn't given the ball. Those are 10 ways the Chiefs used De'Anthony Thomas in 2014.

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