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Ducks Lose James, Thomas to NFL Draft ; Kelly Stays

Posted By Rob Parness On Jan 31 2012 @ 6:42 pm In Oregon | No Comments

After 33 wins, three consecutive Pac-10/12 championships, three BCS game appearances and a host of records to his name accumulated during his three seasons, Oregon’s LaMichael James has decided to forgo his senior season with the Ducks and enter the NFL draft.

James, an All-American running back, set Oregon records in career rushing yards (5,082) and 100+ yard rushing games (18). He also holds the single game rushing mark in Duck history with a 288-yard performance earlier this season at Arizona. All in all James has 5,869 total yards and 58 touchdowns to his name in the Oregon record books alongside his 2010 Doak Walker Award trophy, which is presented annually to the nation’s top running back. James was also a finalist for the 2010 Heisman Trophy, an award won by Auburn quarterback Cam Newton.

Though James has produced gaudy statistics and has proven success at the college level, his lack of size and various injury concerns could hurt him when it comes to draft position in April. He is currently projected as a 3rd round pick by ESPN’s Todd McShay prior to combine and scouting workouts which will take place over the next few months. However, with track star speed and quickness, impressive strength and undeniable toughness, whoever picks up James will be getting a player determined to make an impact.

For the past two seasons James has lined up alongside quarterback Darron Thomas in the Oregon backfield, who has also decided to take his shot at the professional ranks. Thomas has amassed impressive statistics in his own right in that time and in his two seasons as a starting quarterback he won 23 games against only 3 losses. He ends his career ranked in the top-10 in school history in touchdown passes (51, 5th), passing yards (4,529, 9th), and total offense (5,150, 10th).

While most assumed James was NFL bound following the team’s 45-38 Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin, Thomas was expected to return for his senior season with the Ducks. He is not considered a top prospect as a quarterback and many do not even project him to be drafted. Most believe he would have greatly benefited from another year of training at the college level, leaving Oregon fans scratching their heads with news of his departure.

James will pass the reins at the running back position to Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas, two highly productive and explosive players. Thomas will be replaced by either Bryan Bennett or Marcus Mariota, who will battle for the job in the offseason.

While losing two players as successful as James and Thomas hurts the Ducks, Oregon fans almost lost a much more important figure to the NFL; Head coach Chip Kelly.

Sources believed that Kelly had all but signed his name on the dotted line to become the next head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before changing his mind at the last second to return to Eugene.

Some have been wondering when a coach with Kelly’s college spread offense scheme would get a shot at changing the “under center” NFL scene. With athletic dual-threat quarterbacks like Newton (Carolina) and Michael Vick (Philadelphia) proving they can perform in the NFL, Tampa Bay decided that now may be the time that Kelly’s system could start to gain some footing in the league.

Kelly is back coaching Oregon…for now. However, even though Duck fans everywhere are thrilled with his decision to return, it has become clear that Kelly is interested in coaching at the highest level and may just be waiting for the right opportunity.

It may just be a matter of time.

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