Ambry Thomas will be key for 49ers beating Texans, Rams

Ambry Thomas #20 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Ambry Thomas #20 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

The 49ers are going to need a lot from their rookie cornerback, Ambry Thomas, over their final two games of the 2021 regular season.

The San Francisco 49ers probably would prefer things hadn’t come down this way, but there’s a good chance their playoff hopes this season hinge on rookie third-round NFL Draft pick, cornerback Ambry Thomas.

Not entirely, of course. The Niners do have an offense that scores points, and they have a pass rush that sacks quarterbacks. Those elements help, too.

But on the cusp of making the postseason, needing to at least beat either the Houston Texans in Week 17 or the Los Angeles Rams in Week 18, a player like Thomas is going to have to rise to the occasion early and often to ensure San Francisco doesn’t suffer back-to-back losses en route to what would likely be a lost grasp on a Wild Card berth.

The Texans and Rams surely paid attention to Thomas’ last three games, all starts in the wake of the 49ers losing cornerback Emmanuel Moseley to an ankle injury. The Cincinnati Bengals, Atlanta Falcons and Tennessee Titans all made a habit of targeting Thomas whenever possible, frequently lining up their best pass-catching targets against him.

Houston and Los Angeles should expect to do the same.

Ambry Thomas slowly improving for 49ers with each week

Thomas’ ascent after being selected in Round 3 out of Michigan has been turbulent. A regular inactive over the first half of the season, only injuries have prompted his insertion onto the active gameday roster, and then Moseley’s injury opened up the door for him to start.

Things haven’t always gone well. Against the Bengals, Thomas frequently found himself outpaced and out of position against top-level Cincy receivers like Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase, Pro Football Focus crediting him with three catches surrendered on four targets for 81 yards and a touchdown.

On paper, the following week wasn’t much better against the Falcons, as he surrendered four catches on six targets for 95 yards and a touchdown.

Unlike the previous week, though, Thomas usually wasn’t in a bad position, rather just needing to learn to attack the catch point in addition to staying with his receiver.


Against the Titans, Thomas had his best game as a pro by far. Sure, he and the rest of the Niners secondary was abused by Tennessee wide receiver A.J. Brown, who had 11 catches for 145 yards and a touchdown.

Thomas didn’t allow that score, though, and gave up just two receptions on five targets for 46 yards. And while one of them came on a 3rd-and-23 play for 42 yards, the rookie helped offset that by also breaking up two passes in the game.

More improvement. San Francisco will need that to continue.

49ers will need Ambry Thomas to be on point vs. Texans, Rams

The Texans aren’t good. The Rams are.

Houston enters the game with the NFL’s 30th-ranked passing offense. The only way the Texans, at least offensively, manage to pull off an upset over the 49ers in Week 17 is if their No. 1 weapon, wide receiver Brandin Cooks, goes off in a Brown-like manner.

Cooks, who just came off the reserve/COVID list, can certainly do just that, boasting back-to-back 100-yard games and already having 945 yards receiving this year despite being on a terrible Texans squad.

Considering the lack of weapons elsewhere, Houston is surely going to look to feature Cooks against Thomas as much as possible. And if one views Week 17 as the game the Niners absolutely have to win, Thomas will need to bring his A-game.

Related Story: Brandin Cooks will be a problem for 49ers in Week 17

LA, of course, will be a much bigger challenge. Despite a slowish start after being acquired just before this season’s NFL trade deadline, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has managed to come on a bit as of late. Yet his onfield presence will truly be overshadowed by a possible Offensive Player of the Year candidate, fellow Rams wideout Cooper Kupp, the NFL leader in receptions (132), receiving yards (1,734) and receiving touchdowns (14).

Unlike the Texans, which will afford San Francisco the chance to shade help against Cooks to support Thomas, this Los Angeles pass-catching duo will likely result in plenty of one-on-one opportunities for Thomas to solidify and showcase his growth.

He’ll need to if the 49ers want to finish the season 2-0.

Next. 10 high-profile 49ers draft picks who never panned out. dark