49ers: Don’t Underestimate DT Solomon Thomas in 2018

Niners Live keeps a pulse and an ear to these forty-niner Faithful streets and explains: Why Forty-Niner fans should be Patient with Solomon Thomas and why you shouldn’t underestimate him in 2018. 

 

Let’s recap how we got here:

The San Francisco 49ers, with the third overall pick via trading back with the Chicago Bears in the 2017 draft selected DE Solomon Thomas; 6′ 3 and 274 lbs out of the University of Stanford.

His resume and scouting report coming out of college:

During his career at Stanford, Thomas amassed 98 total tackles (24.5 going for losses), 12 sacks (8.5 in 2016) while appearing in 26 games. Can you say durability? Yes, you can. His accomplishments and accolades are nothing to sneeze at in 2016: No. 1 run-defense grade (92.0) and No. 6 pass rushing grade (86.9) among FBS interior defensive linemen, All-American honors, and the Morris Trophy, as well as the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2016 (Pro Football Focus).

ESPN college analyst Todd McShay: Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford | Watch highlights
The 49ers don’t necessarily need to force it and spend the No. 2 pick on a QB after picking up Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley in free agency. What they need is more impact players, and Thomas is the total package off the edge, with size, quickness, and power.

What Niners Live said when Solomon Thomas was first drafted:

How he fits:

Thomas has the versatility to play throughout the defensive line and act as a violent disruptor as aforementioned, against the run and pass. Look for new defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to deploy Thomas much like the Seattle Seahawks have done with DE Michael Bennett who starts off at left DE (defensive end) but on obvious passing downs kicks inside to be a natural born problem (his natural position is defensive tackle) for opposing offensive linemen generating a violent pass rush to throw off the timing off NFL offenses for years to come.

Closing grade (A):

The 49ers take a defensive lineman for the third straight year in a row (2015) Arik Armstead, (2016) Deforest Buckner and now (2017) Solomon Thomas. Note: The 49ers’ defense gave up the most rushing yards in franchise history which also was a league-high totaling 2,654 yards and a much to be desired 33 sacks while being ranked dead last in defense in 2016. 

The 49ers and General manager John Lynch get this one right (the trenches) by saying enough is enough, and taking a page from the L.A. Rams, they’ve decided to fight fire with fire to create one of the most fierce defensive lines for years to come.

Why Forty-Niner fans Should be Patient with Solomon Thomas

Thomas got off to a late start in the offseason and missed OTA’s due to NFL restrictions; NFL rookies cannot join their new teams until their preceding school year is complete. Thomas was highly annoyed and frustrated with the rule (per Matt Maiocco of NBCS).   

Thomas missed games due to injury; a knee MCL sprain.

Before his knee injury, Thomas had switched to the other side, (Leo/outside DE pass rusher). Thomas should be playing more inside as a 3-technique, which lines up shaded to the guard’s outside shoulder, ready to shoot the B-gap on his side of the formation.

The projected starting defensive tackles are Thomas and Buckner. Thomas has been playing out of position since being drafted. He began the season playing left defensive end on base downs in place of injured and former 49er Tank Carradine.

He’s showed flashes of potentialproduction and playmaking ability. Like week four against the Arizona Cardinals when he recorded five solo tackles total, one tackle for a loss and one sack. And week six against the Washington Redskins, he registered nine tackles, seven coming solo, one tackle for a loss and a sack (via ESPN.com).

Thomas recorded 41 total tackles and three sacks while appearing in 14 games starting 12 of those contest. He was slowed after returning from injury (lacking mobility and explosiveness) but still managed to provide the violent pressure on the quarterback at times that you expect from a third overall draft pick. 

Thomas in his first year gained some experience (696 total snaps played) which was amongst the highest of all rookie defensive linemen. 

Things you should know: 49ers’ General Manager John Lynch has his former classmate’s back to the fullest, and because he has the support of the man running the show, Thomas will get every opportunity to be successful. The 49ers invested the third-overall pick in last year’s draft on Thomas, which makes him and Lynch joined at the hip.

And that means playing on the interior line, which 49ers’ defensive coordinator Robert Saleh believes is his best-suited position starting right next to Buckner.

Thomas’ role would be to penetrate the line of scrimmage in 2018 through his B-gap, and disrupt plays in the backfield, whether pass or run. His skill set and the talent level he possesses is more tailor-made for playing inside, which relies far more on speed and agility than brute strength. And to his credit, he has a combination of both (see Los Angeles Rams’ defensive tackle Aaron Donald).

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Thomas needs a full offseason to refine his technique, get stronger, work on his film study and make adjustments on how his opponents played him in 2017. Expect Thomas to take a big step (he’s among Pro Football Focus‘ top ten bounce back players in 2018) once he moves inside next to Buckner. As always, to be continued…

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All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.comPro Football Focus49ers.comESPN.comNFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author, Content Creator, player break down specialist, Co-Editor, Sequoia Sims