DAT: the Year in Review

Looking back at the rookie running back’s first NFL season

Running back De'Anthony Thomas, the Chiefs' fourth-round pick out of the University of Oregon, was an intriguing player to watch from day one forward in St. Joseph, Missouri.

Immediately, head coach Andy Reid and his staff realized what they had on their hands was an athlete with a multitude of capabilities.

"He does a lot of different things," Reid said in August. "He did it in college at Oregon, and he's still doing it here. Brad (Childress) works with him, David (Culley) works with him a little bit and EB (Eric Bieniemy) works with him probably more than anybody.

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

On the fourth day of camp, special teams coordinator Dave Toub mentioned him in the same breath as perhaps this past decade's finest punt returner.

"His burst, his ability to make the first person miss, he's got that," Toub explained. "Same thing Devin Hester had."

With that high praise now bestowed upon him, Thomas showed in the Chiefs' first preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals that Toub hadn't misspoken.

He was a playmaker.

"He went in there and showed a lot of courage," Toub said after the game of Thomas' willingness to take the hit before returning the ball for a touchdown. "Those are the things we wanted to see. [He] showed a lot of courage catching the ball, took a good hit and still held onto the ball and didn't go down, [and he] checked his balance.

"Once he's able to get in the open field, you can see how dangerous he is."

Thomas was named the Chiefs' starting punt returner out of training camp, but on Wednesday, September 3, he suffered a hamstring injury that would keep him out for the first five weeks of the season.

Like watching an amazing trailer for a movie whose opening date keeps getting pushed back, fans were forced to wait for the rookie's debut.

But in the Chiefs' Week 6 game against the San Francisco 49ers, Thomas proved it was worth it.

**

In his first NFL game, Thomas scored his first career touchdown.

"Get him in space and he's got that kind of potential," quarterback Alex Smith said after the game. "You saw that today."

From Week 5 on, Thomas' primary role was punt returner while usually garnering between 15 and 25 snaps on offense. Statistically speaking, Thomas' most effective game was against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 16, when he had six catches for 47 yards receiving.

As a punt returner, Thomas had an outstanding season.

At 11.9 yards per return, he was the third-best punt returner in the entire league, only behind the Eagles' Darren Sproles (13.0) and the Patriots' Julian Edelman (12.0).

In his returns, many times it was clear to see that he was nearly one step or one missed tackle away from breaking a big run, and if the opposing team gave Thomas any space at all, he was gone.

The Oakland Raiders found that out the hard way.

**

The return during Raider Week was arguably Thomas' most pivotal play of the season, because it gave the Chiefs their first score late in the first quarter in a game with the playoffs still very much on the line.

After the game, Thomas just credited his teammates.

"The guys were blocking for me, the guys up front holding those gunners down," he said. "It's a great play to get the tempo going for our offense and just setting it off."

The Chiefs defeated the Raiders that day in a game they never trailed, 31-13, and Thomas finished with 156 punt return yards on eight attempts, the second highest punt return yardage output in Chiefs history.

Known for his tweets in all caps speaking of his passion for the game, along with his nickname, the "Black Momba," coined by the rapper Snoop Dogg, Thomas found a key niche in what the Chiefs did throughout the 2014 season.

His abilities allowed him to partake in drills amongst different positional groups and veteran players believe he could be a future leader. He can change a football game in a heartbeat and can serve as the difference between a win and a loss.

Like Smith, tight end Travis Kelce and even RB Jamaal Charles, he now plays a significant role in the identity of the Kansas City Chiefs.

How that role grows and develops heading into 2015 will be fascinating to watch.

Highlights from De'Anthony Thomas' 2014 season.

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