Chiefs rookie De’Anthony Thomas called his first NFL season a learning process.
And on Tuesday, the Chiefs’ fourth-round draft pick proved he was a quick learner when he was selected as a punt returner on the NFL all-rookie team by the Pro Football Writers of America.
Thomas, 5-8, 174, ranked third in the NFL with an 11.9-yard average, including an 81-yard touchdown return that sparked a 31-13 win over Oakland. Thomas’ 156 punt return yards against the Raiders ranked as the second-most in a game in franchise history and earned Thomas AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors.
Asked at the end of the season what he learned as a rookie, Thomas said: “Playbooks, learning the playbook. Getting to know my coaches; getting to know different players. Being around a lot of veterans who have been here several years and talking to them and them giving me different ways how to be a pro.”
Thomas, who played collegiately at Oregon, gave the Chiefs some anxious moments with some of his decisions whether to field or let some punts hit the ground, but that, too, was part of the learning curve under special-teams coordinator Dave Toub.
“Being with Coach Toub, he taught me a lot,” Thomas said. “How to be a better returner, me just fielding those balls and me making right decisions.”
New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who led all NFL rookies and set a club rookie record with 1,305 yards, was selected as the 2014 Rookie of the Year and 2014 Offensive Rookie of the Year; and St. Louis Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who led all NFL rookies with nine sacks, was selected as the 2014 Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Two former Missouri players — Carolina defensive lineman Kony Ealy and St. Louis cornerback E.J. Gaines — were selected to the all-rookie team.
Ealy, a second-round pick, had four sacks and helped the Panthers to the NFC South championship and a playoff win over Arizona.
Gaines, a sixth-round pick and former Fort Osage star, started the first 15 games of the season before a concussion kept him out of the finale. Gaines led the Rams with 14 passes defensed and was credited with 105 tackles, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
Earlier in the week, the PFWA selected Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston to its All-Pro team, an honor he previously received from The Associated Press.