Don't look now, but Ambry Thomas is giving 49ers what they need (and more)

Are the Niners finally getting what they wanted out of Ambry Thomas, only years later after drafting him in 2021?


San Francisco 49ers cornerback Ambry Thomas (20)
San Francisco 49ers cornerback Ambry Thomas (20) / Jane Gershovich/GettyImages

Ambry Thomas has had three games in a row where he's been asked to start for the 49ers, and he's been delivering over each of those weeks.

A year ago at this time, it would have been hard to find embattled cornerback Ambry Thomas anywhere on the San Francisco 49ers defense.

After impressing late during his rookie 2021 season, Thomas regressed mightily in year two and saw a mere 41 defensive snaps over the course of 2022 and spent the bulk of his time on special teams. Then, in the wake of the Niners spending considerable cash on free-agent nickel cornerback Isaiah Oliver during the offseason, Thomas' status with San Francisco was questionable at best.

Oliver struggled for much of the 49ers' first half of the season. After their Week 9 bye and on the tail of a three-game losing streak, Oliver found himself benched while Thomas was inserted into the starting lineup on the boundary.

Fellow cornerback Deommodore Lenoir, who was drafted by San Francisco the same year as Thomas, bumped inside to replace Oliver.

That adjustment is working. Thomas is a big reason why.

Ambry Thomas has impressed last 3 games

The 49ers made a few defensive tweaks during the bye, none bigger than the blockbuster trade pickup of EDGE Chase Young, which helped invigorate the pass rush.

However, the secondary has had new life because of Thomas' presence, and both the numbers and analytics show it.

According to Pro Football Focus, Thomas allowed two receptions on three targets for just 14 yards in the Niners' Week 10 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. He then followed it up with three catches and a touchdown allowed in Week 11 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but only gave up 16 yards in the process.

Then, during San Francisco's Thanksgiving Day win over the Seattle Seahawks, Thomas not only gave up just two catches on four targets for 16 yards, but he also snagged an interception at a key moment to ensure momentum didn't slip away from the 49ers:

Check out PFF's game grades for Thomas over the last three weeks:

  • Week 10 @ Jaguars: 81.3
  • Week 11 vs. Buccaneers: 65.5
  • Week 12 @ Seahawks: 90.2

Overall on the year, Thomas owns an 80.7 overall grade, which is quite impressive considering many thought he'd be in jeopardy of losing a roster spot entering the season. And that number is based on 235 total snaps, too, so the sample size is big enough.

Deommodore Lenoir at nickel is working, Ambry Thomas makes that happen

Putting Thomas on the boundary, thereby letting Lenoir move inside as a replacement and upgrade over Oliver has been a pleasant adjustment by defensive coordinator Steve Wilks.

Wilks, who has nevertheless had Oliver's back despite the veteran's struggles, seemed to recognize the best combination was to put Lenoir inside and Thomas out on the boundary opposite the Niners' No. 1 cornerback, Charvarius Ward.

Related story: Can we talk about the 49ers' defensive efforts vs. Seahawks again?

Ward, too, was a hero during San Francisco's victory over Seattle, breaking up three passes and holding Seahawks star wide receiver DK Metcalf to a mere 32 yards receiving.

But Thomas had the interception, while Lenoir gave up three tackles on four targets but has held opposing quarterbacks to a 79.5 passer rating when targeting him.

It seems as if Wilks has found his preferred trio of cornerbacks to deploy, and so much of it is because Thomas is playing the kind of ball for which the 49ers had hoped whey they drafted him in Round 3 back in 2021.

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