Four games into 2018, the San Francisco 49ers’ top pick from the 2017 NFL Draft, Solomon Thomas, has turned into a rotational player. Here’s how to change that going forward.
Thomas’ rookie season wasn’t particularly great. But like many of us, Niner Noise was hopeful for big things out of the Stanford product this season. After all, he had a full year under his belt and was supposed to be transitioning into a more-clearly defined role in 2018.
It just hasn’t happened.
Less than two years into his rookie four-year deal, Thomas has now been relegated to a mere rotational player, limited to just 163 defensive snaps — substantial, considering the 49ers’ other two first rounders on the defensive line, DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead, are already above 200.
Quite simply, the production hasn’t been there from Thomas to earn more chances. He hasn’t been effective off the edge much, registering just six quarterback hurries over that span, according to Pro Football Focus.
That’s one pressure every 27 snaps — clearly not the kind of production you’d like from a top-five defensive lineman.
Thomas isn’t going anywhere, however, so the Niners might as well figure out the best possible way to utilize him in coming weeks.
The 49ers rotate their defensive line a lot, which isn’t surprising considering the depth they have there. But Thomas, who flashed a lot of potential rushing from the inside, has gotten the majority of his work off the edge in base formations. On pass-rushing downs, he’s been subbed out for EDGE Cassius Marsh.
Thomas’ 70.5 PFF run-defense grade warrants placement here. So far over a year-plus, that’s been his strength. But moving him inside to a 3-technique defensive tackle in sub packages is where Thomas will make his impact. The Niners experimented with this late last year and has some success with Thomas doing so.
The reason is Thomas has neither the speed or the bend to get off the edge in pass-rushing situations. While this has hindered his run-stopping abilities to a point, often reacting to runners instead of attacking them, it’s absolutely detrimental to getting around a left tackle and towards the pocket.
The shortest path between two points is a straight line, right? Speed isn’t as big an issue from the interior.
According to general manager John Lynch (h/t David Fucillo of Niners Nation), that’s something the 49ers might try implementing more in coming weeks.
It will be interesting to see how San Francisco handles Thomas as the season moves on. He’s disappointed, sure. But the Niners haven’t exactly put him in the best situation to succeed either.
Changing that could change Thomas’ trajectory as well.
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