Fearless Predictions: The 49ers Draft “DE Solomon Thomas”

Niners Live recently discussed: Who’s Your Dark Horse? Featuring “DE Solomon Thomas” and now? Here’s the remix: Fearless Predictions: The 49ers Draft “DE Solomon Thomas.”

 

The San Francisco 49ers have the 2nd overall pick in this year’s 2017 draft come April. There’s been a lot of mock drafts, expert opinions, and fan base discussions amongst the sports world on what to do with the pick. Should the 49ers trade down? Should the 49ers address the quarterback position? Which Niners Live recently responded to in: Who Would You Draft? Kizer? Mahomes? Watson? Or Trubisky? Or should the 49ers draft the Dick Butkus Award winner MLB Reuben Foster? We’ve addressed that as a possibility as well in: Why the 49ers Need to Address the Heir Apparent to NaVorro Bowman.

Although many have Myles Garrett pegged as the number one prospect on the draft boards, like CBSSports.com, he may not be an option (a la Cleveland Browns) when the 49ers pick second overall. Assuming the 49ers stay put, that is. Well, let’s assume they do stay put, what with Jonathan Allen and Reuben Foster both dealing with injuries or requiring surgeries, respectively, via NFL.com.

Interesting to note: Niners Live back in January discussed our: Mock Draft 2017 Rounds 1-4, Featuring Jonathan Allen-DE Alabama before we got wind of his recent shoulder issues.

A tale of two articles:

Who’s now worthy to be in the conversation or under consideration based on value, ranking, need, and want, etc.? How about DE Solomon Thomas out of Stanford? Recently, (Pro Football Focus) dropped a scouting report on Thomas, highlighting his strengths, areas of concern, scheme versatility, and best position fit. Let’s recap that scouting report, shall we? Thomas, off the top, is an elite run defender, one of the best in the nation. Would he help the league’s worst run defense this past year? Absolutely, he would. His 12.0 run-stop percentage ranks No. 6 among Power-5 defensive tackles and his pass rushing productivity rating of 8.7 is ranked No. 5 among Power-5 defensive tackles, which is nothing to sneeze at, indeed.

Will Brinson, CBS Sports: Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford

“Stanford pass-rusher Solomon Thomas. He’s a freak. I understand people wonder about where to put him, but I think you could put him on the end of a 4-3 defense and he’s going to get after the passer. If you watched Mitchell Trubisky in the Sun Bowl, you watched Solomon Thomas get in his face the entire game. I think he’s got a ton of upside.” (Via the team’s website).

Daniel Jeremiah, NFL.com: Thomas

“Thomas has the versatility to play up and down the line of scrimmage, and he seems like a perfect match for what John Lynch is trying to build.”

Todd McShay, ESPN: Thomas

“With a good combination of quickness and power, Thomas would be a good fit for the defense Robert Saleh hopes to build out West.”

Dane Brugler, CBS Sports: Thomas

“Yes, there is the Stanford connection with general manager John Lynch, but more importantly, Thomas is an excellent football player who adds immediate pass rush help on the defensive line.”

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Thomas

“There are a lot of scouts who think this will happen, even though the 49ers need a quarterback. Thomas can be special.”

Rob Rang, CBS Sports: Thomas

“Head coach Kyle Shanahan was hired to help spark a listless offense that ranked 27th in the NFL in points scored and dead last in passing last season but ignoring better players just to draft a quarterback may only guarantee another poor season in 2017. Thomas is a natural disruptor who has drawn comparisons to LA Rams star Aaron Donald. Sandwiched between massive defensive ends DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead and new defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, he could give the 49ers the dominant defensive line to compete in the NFC West, with the need at quarterback more likely to be addressed with a veteran.”

The 49ers had several problems overall on defense but one glaring area, in particular, was the inability to shed tackles. Does Thomas have that problem? No, he doesn’t. Shedding blockers is a key strength of his, so much so he does it with ease. He also has a great feel for “back” blocks on “power” plays. What you also have to like is his versatility to manifest a pass rush from the edge or the interior of the defensive line, which would be instrumental in your sub packages a la nickel. His ability to continuously flash rarely matched quickness into gaps on stunts and strong leg drive to bull rush larger opponents is something the 49ers have been lacking, and could be a great asset into disrupting opposing offenses that have quite frankly “bullied” the 49ers the last two years. Isn’t enough enough?

Important to note: Thomas has 10 sacks, 12 hits, and 22 hurries on 394 pass rush snaps while his pass rush productivity of 9.0 ranks No. 16 among DTs in this year’s draft class and not to mention 24.5 career tackles for loss. And he has the No. 1 run-defense grade (92.0) and No. 6 pass rushing grade (86.9) among FBS interior defensive linemen. Thomas received multiple All-American honors and won the Morris Trophy as the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2016. And was compared to former 49er great Justin Smith via NFL.com.

So, is this the part where you say, “Ok, what’s his weakness?” Well, yes, it is. However, let’s say an area of concern in the fact that he might not have a position, can get overpowered by double teams, doesn’t have the ideal size at 273 lbs and standing at 6’2”, but neither does Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks who is 6’4” and 271 lbs, which he’s been compared to by PFF. How has that turned out for the Hawks? Consider this: the last four years with the Hawks, Bennett has 30.5 sacks and 106 tackles, and his first four years with Tampa Bay Buccaneers? He accounted for 15.0 sacks and 84 tackles, and has been a thorn in the 49ers’ side since coming to the NFC WEST. Is it time to return the favor? What do you think? The needle is ascending on Thomas’ ability to rush the passer.

Please allow me to leave you with this:

The 49ers hired Robert Saleh as their new defensive coordinator. Saleh has a connection with new Head Coach Kyle Shanahan from their four years together with the Houston Texans Many have speculated and assumed that based on the fact that Saleh has been raised in a 4-3 philosophy, he’ll deploy such a scheme with the 49ers in 2017, (confirmation he’s running a 4-3 under look aka Seattle’s defense). With that being said, Thomas as aforementioned would fit right into any scheme with his versatility. You could pencil him in as a 4-3 DE, and a curve ball lineup. Personally, I would move Arik Armstead DE as well, which Niners Live recently discussed: Will the New Coaching Staff Maximize Arik Armstead’s Full Potential? To allow him to utilize his bull rush and natural athletic ability to apply pressure on quarterbacks, while starting DT DeForest Buckner and Quinton Dial to compete with newly signed free agent DT Earl Mitchell, who Niners Live recently discussed. Mitchell is expected to potentially start, and Dial would be a key cog in the interior line rotation.

Bonus Niners Live side note: Think that’s far-fetched, do you? Well, also consider Thomas is ranked by CBSSports.com as the second-best prospect overall and second-ranked DE who’s steadily climbing up draft boards. Back in January of 2017, Mel Kiper Jr., football analyst for ESPN, had him ranked the 7th best prospect. If you had to pick a “dark horse,” why not Thomas? Not saying the 49ers couldn’t even trade down a couple selections and take him. That’s a possibility, as well. Hold up for a second, though. Didn’t the 49ers sign a future Hall of Famer and General Manager in John Lynch? Yea, I thought so.

Wait—both went to Stanford, right? Both have local ties, right? Right. I did say when I started this. Can I please leave you with this? Thomas checks all the boxes from what we’ve seen from Shanahan and Lynch so far in free agency they covet the most; comfort/familiarity/leadership/relentless effort/scheme friendly and high character.

As always, keep your eyes wide open, 49er fans. Niners Live will be watching with you. #eyeswideopen and often imitated but never duplicated… Go Niners.

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All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author, Editor Niners Live.