When you look at the deals the Bengals keep signing Brandon Tate to seemingly every offseason, it feels like they want to find someone better than him at being a return man.
Tate was decent on kickoffs, averaging 26.1 yards per return last season. That was good enough for ninth among returners with 20 or more returns. Still, he's not very explosive and doesn't do a lot to give the Bengals offense short fields to work with.
He's consistently above-average, and that's representative in the one-year deals the Bengals keep giving him. In other words, Cincinnati looks like they want something better, but haven't been able to find "that guy" just yet.
Could Oregon's De'Athony Thomas be that guy this year?
(Yes, we know the Bengals lost Andrew Hawkins, not Lavelle Hawkins. Good job. Good effort.)
The man in the photo appears to be special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons, and Thomas is one of just a few draft prospects the Bengals have had private meetings with, let alone with a positional coach or coordinator.
The 5'9", 174-pound Thomas was one of the most explosive players in college football the past two seasons. He was a Maxwell Award Semifinalist (College Player of the Year) in 2012 after notching 1,757 all-purpose yards and scored 18 touchdowns. During his three-year career in Eugene, Thomas amassed 1,890 rushing yards, 1,296 receiving yards, 1,885 return yards and 46 total touchdowns (26 rushing, 15 receiving and five on returns).
It's safe to say the Bengals are at least thoroughly evaluating this year's best returner prospects. They also met with Oregon State's Brandin Cooks at the NFL Scouting Combine. They met with him at his pro day, and it's safe to say they're very interested in him too.
Cooks is projected go as high as the end of the first-round though, so he may be out of the question. Even if he's on the board at No. 55, the Bengals have more pressing needs.
Look for them to target Thomas on Day 3, where he's expected to fall to because of his extremely thin frame and lack of a true position. At Oregon, he was a RB/WR, but in the NFL, it's unrealistic to expect him to be durable at RB.
His ceiling is a more explosive version of Trindon Holiday with better receiving skills. The Bengals could certainly use that after losing Andrew Hawkins to go with Ryan Whalen and now Tate having their deals expire in 2015.