The San Francisco 49ers’ top NFL Draft choice from 2017, defensive end Solomon Thomas, has largely underwhelmed his first two years at the pro level, meaning his 2019 campaign is crucial.
The No. 3 overall pick from 2017 wasn’t exactly put into a position to succeed right away. While at Stanford, Thomas primarily played on the inside. The Niners elected to feature him more as an outside rusher his rookie season — a position he admitted, via 49ers Webzone, he didn’t play much in college.
As a result, the numbers Thomas has posted his first two seasons at the pro level haven’t exactly been inspiring. To date, he has just four sacks and was relegated to being a rotational player for much of the 2018 season.
Last year, Pro Football Focus ranked Thomas the No. 63 overall edge defender with a 64.0 grade on the season.
Not exactly the kind of production you’d expect from a top five pick.
True, Thomas has had some flashes. When the Niners began shifting him more to the interior late in 2018, Thomas became more of the pocket-wrecking force. The stats didn’t exactly reflect it, but the 49ers defensive line looked far more potent as a whole.
Heading into his third year at the NFL level, however, Thomas will be under pressure to deliver an impact season. He should be assisted by San Francisco’s new defensive line here, assistant coach Kris Kocurek, who will be tasked with figuring out how to best use Thomas’ skill set:
There are other factors at play here, though. One of those is four-year pro defensive tackle Arik Armstead, who ended up being the 49ers’ second best defender behind fellow DT DeForest Buckner, according to PFF. If Thomas winds up being viewed primarily as a 5-technique strong-side end, Armstead’s presence should be seen as less necessary, meaning the Niners could move on from him before his fully guaranteed fifth-year option hits the books at the league new year.
Additionally, the Niners’ pending actions in the 2019 NFL Draft could have an affect on Thomas’ future. Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, widely viewed as the No. 2 overall prospect this year, could be a 49ers top target.
They’re selecting second overall.
If San Francisco is eyeing Williams, it doesn’t bode well for Thomas. Yet if the Niners are banking on Thomas finally having his breakout season, targeting Williams might be a bit redundant.
Should the 49ers put faith in Thomas finally living up to his draft stock, thereby passing on a force like Williams, it will be yet another reason why 2019 will be vital to San Francisco’s top draft choice from two years ago.
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