Passionate. Powerful. Physical. Those are words on how I would describe DE Solomon Thomas. A player who is quickly sky-rocketing up draft boards due to his versatility, Thomas would undoubtedly be a welcomed addition to any NFL team. Considered a bit of a ‘tweener,’ as Thomas can thrive under a traditional 4-3 base or odd-man front, Thomas’ unique skill-set makes him a universally prized asset among all 32 NFL teams, and the San Francisco 49ers are no exception.
With the 49ers making the transition to a 4-3 base defense under new DC Robert Saleh, it’s imperative they create pressure up-front. And not just any type of pressure…I’m talking about an ‘organic pass-rush.’ The 4-3 base defense is highly predicated on bringing heat up the middle with four defensive lineman. If the 49ers are to endure any type of defensive success in 2017, they will need to bring pressure from that coveted ‘LEO’ position.
The ‘LEO’ position is lined up on the outside shade of the left tackle, next to a three-technique defensive tackle. At 6-3, 273, Thomas is a bit of a ‘tweener,’ because ideally you want your LEO’s to be in the 250-pound range with 4.6-4.7 40-yard dash speed. What makes Thomas so coveted, is the fact that he’s 23 pounds heavier for the position, yet his speed is not compromised, evident by displaying a 4.69 40-time at the NFL combine.
Not only does this make Thomas highly valued, but also a perfect fit for what the 49ers need moving forward. Some NFL pundits believe Alabama DT Jonathan Allen would be the second best player off the board. But the 49ers don’t need a defensive tackle. They need a pass-rusher.
It makes absolutely no sense for the 49ers to draft Allen for a number of reasons. One, they already have a nice, young, nucleus in DT DeForest Buckner, DT Quinton Dial, DT Ronald Blair, and recently signed DT Earl Mitchell. So where would Allen fit in?
Secondly, by drafting Allen you neglect once again to address the pass-rush. A unit that witnessed just 33 sacks a year ago. Here’s some food for thought– since 2001, only two 49ers have recorded double-digit sacks in a single season– DE Andre Carter and OLB Aldon Smith. In today’s, pass-happy NFL, that’s not good enough.
— Ryan Sakamoto (@BEASTwriter_) August 1, 2016
It does a defense no justice if they can’t get off the field on third-downs, which is why they should also pass up on Ohio State FS Malik Hooker.
— Ryan Sakamoto (@BEASTwriter_) November 13, 2016
I heard the comparisons that Hooker is the next Seattle Seahawks FS Earl Thomas, but I don’t see it. And should the 49ers draft Hooker over Thomas, they are basically giving up on 2014 first-round pick DB Jimmie Ward.
It’s been highly anticipated that Ward will get his shot to shine in the backend of the defense, and I said time and time again that Ward is the team’s best free-safety no one knows about.
— Ryan Sakamoto (@BEASTwriter_) November 22, 2016
I asked former DC Jim O’Neil last year if he would consider using Ward as a center-fielder, and O’Neil said that Ward was a ‘cornerback.’
Well, we are going to see if that holds up, with Ward now getting his opportunity to be a ball-hawking safety.
And then there’s Alabama MLB Reuben Foster. There is no doubt in my mind that Foster is going to be a Pro Bowl player. He has the range, instincts, and physicality to match-up with NFL talent. However, in the biggest interview of his life–he failed. Being dismissed from the NFL combine was not a good look for him.
Can the 49ers afford taking another talented defensive prospect with red-flags? Especially with the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft? I don’t think so. Instead, they need to find players who are high-character safe bets with a high-ceiling to boot–and that’s why I’m taking Thomas, if DE Myles Garrett is off the board.
In a perfect world, I would love for the 49ers to trade out of the No. 2 spot, but it takes two teams to make that a reality. If they stay pat, they would be wise to once again solidify that defensive front. To think that 2015 first-round pick DE Arik Armstead is a building block, would be highly optimistic to say the least. A stat line of just 34 tackles and 4.5 sacks through 24 games will prove that.
Sure 3-4 defensive ends don’t garner eye-popping stats, but just turn on the game-film and look at Buckner, and you can see where the comparison lies. I understand Forever Faithful are unwilling to accept the fact that Armstead is a bust, but let’s be real…how many more years are we gonna give Armstead a pass before accepting he is what he is?
With the 49ers looking to improve their roster, they would be wise to draft yet another defensive lineman from the Pac-12 in three consecutive years–as Thomas would bring not only a winning culture to San Francisco but a versatile defensive end who can play along the line in numerous different roles.
In 2016, Thomas racked up a team-high 62 tackles, 15.0 tackles for loss and 8.0 sacks, en route to being named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.