- Adam Teicher, ESPN Staff Writer
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The prudent thing at that point for Kansas City Chiefs rookie De'Anthony Thomas would have been to call for a fair catch. Thomas was getting his first chance in an NFL game to return a punt, but he had to roam a fair distance just to make the catch. So Thomas was being advised by at least one teammate from the sideline to wave his raised hand and surrender this one.
"I know I was screaming 'fair catch' from the sideline," quarterback Alex Smith said. "Then I was like, 'OK.'"
Thomas, a fourth-round draft pick from Oregon, has the speed to turn every negative in a positive. He took a jolt upon catching the ball when a Cincinnati Bengals player bumped into him but Thomas kept his feet.
From there, he used his world-class speed to score an 80-yard touchdown on the first return of his career, albeit in a preseason game.
"He does that every day," Smith said. "He kind of knows only one speed. We kind of joke about that. Even during a walk-through he's going 100 miles an hour."
If it wasn't obvious before the Bengals game, it is now that Thomas is going to be the Chiefs' punt returner when the regular season starts. But the Chiefs have to find ways to get Thomas involved on offense, too. He's been lining up at a various times as a running back, slot receiver and wide receiver.
But if Thomas only excels as a returner, he's nothing more than Dexter McCluster was. McCluster left as a free agent this year and is the player Thomas was drafted to replace.
McCluster was a good return specialist for the Chiefs but mostly a disappointment on offense. The Chiefs then, as now, are desperate for an offensive playmaker to complement Jamaal Charles, and Thomas is a logical candidate to be that player.
It's worth noting the Chiefs at a similar point of McCluster's career were excited about the possibilities he could bring to their offense. So it's premature to declare Thomas an offensive savior. He got the ball once on offense against the Bengals, a three-yard carry.
But he's off to a good start.
"This is only the first game," Thomas said. "There (are) a lot more games to prove to people what kind of player I am."