Why you should expect big things from 49ers’ Solomon Thomas in 2018

SANTA CLARA, CA - SEPTEMBER 10: Solomon Thomas #94 of the San Francisco 49ers warms up before their game against the Carolina Panthers at Levi's Stadium on September 10, 2017 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - SEPTEMBER 10: Solomon Thomas #94 of the San Francisco 49ers warms up before their game against the Carolina Panthers at Levi's Stadium on September 10, 2017 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

San Francisco 49ers rookie first-round draftee, defensive end Solomon Thomas, had a so-so campaign in 2017. But you should expect a vast improvement this upcoming year.

San Francisco 49ers defensive end Solomon Thomas didn’t exactly have an eye-popping rookie campaign after being selected by the Niners at No. 3 overall in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Typically, top-five selections on draft day are the players who wind up contending for Rookie of the Year awards.

It’s safe to say Thomas didn’t live up to that expectation.

According to Pro Football Focus, Thomas’ 53.2 overall grade ranked ninth worst out of all players taken in Round 1 a year ago:

And while that’s a notable disappointment, especially for a top-five pick, there are more than a handful of reasons to project Thomas having an impact year in 2018.

Let’s take a look why fans should be excited about Thomas this upcoming season.

San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers /

San Francisco 49ers

Reasons for Solomon Thomas’ Slow Start

Keep in mind, Thomas’ obligations at Stanford prevented him from participating in many of the offseason programs the Niners held leading up to the regular season.

These are vital, especially for rookies, and his absence certainly didn’t help his transition from the collegiate level to the pros. Armed with a full season under his belt — one that included 696 snaps (second most along the defensive line) — this shouldn’t be a problem.

It’s now about honing his skill set.

In addition, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh rotated Thomas in a number of spots along the D-line, particularly the 3- and 5-technique spots. Saleh explained his eventual plan for Thomas on KNBR (h/t David Fucillo of Niners Nation) late in 2017:

"Inside is where he’s going to make his hay. We’d like to play him in there on run downs, eventually. But right now, for him, trying to keep his responsibility as small, his workload as light as possible so he can just go fast. We trust that, over time, that he’s going to develop into everything that we need out of him, but, right now, it’s just him just trying to learn exactly what it is that he has to do to win one-on-ones in both the run game and pass game."

And it looks like Thomas has already met expectations against the run, as his 79.3 run-stopping PFF grade — second most behind DeForest Buckner along the D-line — looks solid enough entering year two.

Thomas’ five missed tackles against the run is a cause for some concern. But remember, this is a teachable element. Especially for a young player.

Reasons Why Solomon Thomas Should Improve in 2018

If you subscribe to the notion players make the biggest jump in their development between years one and two, Thomas should be in line for a nice 2018 campaign.

Remember, even Buckner had his struggles over the first half of his rookie year, only to turn into one of the better interior defenders in the league last season.

We saw signs from Thomas too.

On the edge, where Thomas had his issues in 2017, the interior pass-rushing moves were enough to bring down Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins back in Week 6:

And this run-stopping clip from Week 15, where Thomas is still on the outside, is another example:

The problem is Thomas is far too inconsistent as a pure edge bender at this point in his career. Interior pass-rushing moves work much better.

Like this play against the Chicago Bears, where Thomas easily penetrates the A-gap between the center and right guard:

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It’s going to be in the 49ers’ interests to keep Thomas as an interior defender, featuring him as a 3- or a 1-technique player instead of asking him to get around the edge.

Based off Saleh’s assessments, this is likely to be what San Francisco does in 2018.

Sure, it leaves a void at the EDGE spot. But pairing Thomas and Buckner along the interior in passing situations should help beef up the Niners defensive front nicely.

Next: 5 49ers in line for a breakout year in 2018

And if the 49ers maintain this trajectory, we should see a pretty sizable performance increase from Thomas in year two.