Sean Mannion will return to Oregon State; Ekpre-Olomu stays at UO

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - De'Anthony Thomas looks at the Autzen Stadium crowd after the Oregon Ducks' 2011 victory over UCLA in the first Pac-12 championship game.When at his best, nobody could bring down De'Anthony Thomas.

And now, nobody is going to keep him down.

Thomas, mostly electrifying but also enigmatic, leaves a h-O-le in the O-regon offense as he heads to pro football.

Thomas has chosen to apply for the NFL draft instead of returning to UO spring ball as a senior.

Thomas, who also ran track in Eugene, let it be known Sunday that DAT's the way it will be.

"I am officially withdrawing from the University of Oregon to pursue a professional career in the NFL," he said in the basic prepared statement that almost everyone at his level uses these days.

Thomas' decision surely says things about his own feelings toward college and college football, his role with the Ducks, the Ducks' immediate future, the NFL scouting reports and more. Exactly what his decision says all about of the above is going, for now at least, unsaid by all parties.

The Ducks also have lost cornerback Terrance Mitchell early to the pro game, but cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu announced Monday that he will stay at Oregon and play as a senior in 2014.

Not since 2003 have the Ducks had more than one player leave the team early to pursue a professional career.

Thomas, a 5-9, 170-pounder from L.A.'s Crenshaw High, ran with the ball, caught the ball, returned kicks of the ball and gave the Ducks what coach Mark Helfrich called "spectacular talent."

Thomas fit the Oregon brand in terms of giving them a player with sizzle and name recognition, a player fans came to see, something like the UO uniforms.

But there were always questions about him, including about his long-range durability, and he leaves school as a question mark. He could go as low as the seventh round, according to some NFL draft experts.

Used wisely, though, and if he can catch the ball at the NFL level and be happy as just a contributor, Thomas figures to find a role in spread-type formations and situations. Already, there is speculation that his former UO coach, Chip Kelly, wants to draft him for the Philadelphia Eagles. Philly has the No. 22 pick in the first round. We'll see.

Thomas' speed alone should have him on someone's draft board and give him a solid shot at being on an NFL roster for several years.

• On Monday, Sean Mannion announced that he will not make himself eligible for this year's NFL draft and will return to quarterback the Beavers in 2014.

Mannion, who already has earned a degree at Oregon State, issued a statement that said: “I’m excited to return for my senior year. I weighed the pros and cons of making myself eligible for the draft with my family and current coaching staff, and came to the conclusion that I have decided to continue my career with my teammates at Oregon State. I also want to thank Beaver Nation for all of the support I have received during my career; playing in Reser Stadium for another season had an impact in my decision."

In a teleconference, Mannion said the process of deciding what to do "was difficult," after an evaluation by scouts that projected him as a third-round pick if he entered the 2014 draft.

He said NFL analysts have made it clear that he could improve his stock with another good year with the Beavers. Especially, he said, if he can become a "more efficient passer," with fewer turnovers and "play faster … develop more physically — get bigger, stronger and faster."

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