After disappearing for almost all of last season, 49ers cornerback Ambry Thomas seeks to bounce back in a big way in 2023. He'll need to if he wants to stay on the roster.
It's been a rocky NFL career for San Francisco 49ers cornerback Ambry Thomas.
The 102nd overall pick from the 2021 NFL Draft out of Michigan looked wholly overmatched early in his rookie year, especially when he was forced into a starting role midway through the season because of injuries elsewhere on the roster.
But, as Thomas found his footing, he gradually looked more and more comfortable. And it's hard to forget that playoff spot-clinching interception he had in overtime against the Los Angeles Rams in the final week of that season.
Then, in 2022, Thomas completely regressed, going from a potential starter to someone who could barely sniff the defensive side of the ball. In total, Thomas saw only 41 defensive snaps (four percent) during his sophomore season, spending most of his time on special teams instead while fellow 2021 corner Deommodore Lenoir took over one of the boundary cornerback spots in the second half of the year.
That led to a reasonable conclusion that Thomas would be vying for his Niners career entering 2023.
Ambry Thomas admitted he 'wasn't prepared' for his 2022 campaign
Second-year struggles are common for many players, and young defensive backs often go through a regression in year two anyway, meaning Thomas' drop in productivity wasn't a shock.
Still, he struggled in training camp and was relegated to the very back end of the depth chart.
"I just felt like, mentally, I wasn't prepared," Thomas said of his 2022 campaign, via 49ers Webzone. "Physically, I wasn't prepared. I kind of felt like it was given to me just because I came off a strong playoff run my rookie year. But this year, anybody's job is up for grabs. That's how I look at it, and that's the mentality I took going into work, starting from OTAs."
What's fortunate for Thomas is that San Francisco's cornerback depth chart isn't exactly stacked, and it's a fluid group after No. 1 corner Charvarius Ward.
How much are the 49ers paying Ambry Thomas in 2023?
Per Spotrac, Thomas' four-year rookie contract signed back in 2021 is worth up to $4.786 million. $840,620 is guaranteed.
For the upcoming 2023 campaign, Thomas could earn up to $1.305 million. If the 49ers elect to waive him, though, they'd incur $420,310 in dead money, half of what was guaranteed at signing.
That's not a huge amount of guaranteed money to ensure a roster spot, but it's enough to make the Niners think twice about waiving Thomas.
Plus, at least based on one preseason game so far in 2023, Thomas is poised to earn a spot anyway.
Will Ambry Thomas make 49ers' 53-man roster?
Thomas is certainly on the bubble, as are most of the cornerbacks behind Ward, Lenoir and one of the team's offseason free-agent pickups, Isaiah Oliver, who likely starts at nickel back but could be challenged by someone like Thomas, too.
Following San Francisco's preseason opener against the Las Vegas Raiders, defensive coordinator Steve Wilks hinted that the nickel role isn't locked in for Oliver, and someone like Thomas could seize that spot.
Wilks also sang Thomas' praises, too:
"It was encouraging to see individuals do certain things. Ambry I thought did a tremendous job and some of the things that we saw on tape, particularly also during the game, coming up strong on that fourth-down play. And then having a PBU."
Thomas had whiffed on what could have been a touchdown-saving tackle early in the game, but he more than made up for it later despite the 34-7 exhibition loss.
Those efforts should bode well for his chances to make the 53-man roster. And while they may not necessarily translate into him being a starter this season, he's at least poised to be a primary backup and rotational option.
And that's infinitely better than where he was at the conclusion of last season.