James or Thomas? Which loss is bigger?

June, 1, 2012
6/01/12
12:00
PM ET
The folks at Athlon Sports raised an intersting question regarding Oregon: Which hurts more, the loss of running back LaMichael James or quarterback Darron Thomas?

They had a few of their writers weigh in with their opinions and the consensus seems to be the loss of Thomas hurts more. Here's a few snippits:
Writes Braden Gall: While the quarterback position hasn't been difficult to fill for Chip Kelly, either, replacing Thomas will most assuredly be more complicated. First, Barner and Thomas have loads of experience and talent, while Thomas replacements Bryan Bennett and Marcus Mariota have a combined one career start and 46 career pass attempts (all from Bennett).

Writes Steven Lassan: Even though LaMichael James was a special player, I think Darron Thomas is a bigger loss for the Ducks. Good skill players are never easy to replace, but finding a new starting quarterback always provides for more headaches for coaching staffs.

Writes Mark Ross: Darron Thomas, hands down. Yes Chip Kelly lost a 5,000-yard rusher in James, but the Ducks' backfield cupboard is anything but bare. First there's Kenjon Barner, a senior who nearly rushed for 1,000 yards himself last season and for his career is averaging better than six yards per carry.

Writes Patrick Snow: James has the bigger name and was drafted by into the NFL, but I think Oregon will miss Thomas more in 2012. It simply comes down to the fact that the Ducks have multiple weapons who can make big plays running the ball, but the quarterback position remains a question.

It's a fair question, and 9.9 out of 10 times I'll always pick replacing a quarterback as more important than a running back. For example, Arizona and Colorado are the only other two schools besides Oregon to lose their top passer and top rusher from last season. Replacing Nick Foles is more important in Arizona than replacing Keola Antolin, just as replacing Tyler Hansen in Colorado is more important than replacing Rodney Stewart.

But in the case of Oregon -- as many have pointed out -- both Bryan Bennett and Marcus Mariota are probably better athletes and all-around quarterbacks than Thomas was. As Gall notes in his submission, replacing quarterbacks hasn't been a problem for Kelly. Why will it be this time around?

I'm a big Barner and De'Anthony Thomas fan and think both will be great this season. But James was a special player -- an 1,800 yard guy (don't forget the time he missed with the horrific elbow injury) -- who was constantly underrated nationally because of his size, but outperformed nonetheless. So many times teams tried to clog the middle and force James to the outside. And so many times he ran right through the tackles, spitting out the other side for a big gain.

Oregon is obviously talented enough to absorb both losses. But maybe I'm just not as concerned with Bennett and Mariota as others seem to be. James was a unique player who had the toughness to back up his speed, and in my mind that's not easily replaced. I think it also says something about how respected he was in the conference that Jim Harbaugh drafted him in the second round.

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