Let’s investigate Solomon Thomas. There is no question that he is a very impressive prospect. In fact, he might deserve to go second in this draft to San Francisco, behind only Myles Garrett. But he is also polarizing. It is interesting to see how he fits into specific schemes or overall in today’s NFL.
Thomas is 6-foot-3 and 273 pounds. He could most likely drop a little weight and play a high percentage of his snaps on the edge, or more likely, as he ages, he could get thicker and stronger and make his living on the interior for the most part.
As an edge player, his calling card would have to be his power and outstanding hand usage. Few secure the edge as well as Thomas, and he can hold up to offensive tackle/tight end double teams on the perimeter. He is very thick, strong and stout when comparing him to other 4-3 defensive end types. Still, he can even drop into coverage and operate out of a two-point stance. That is a rare combination.
As an inside player, Thomas still should hold up well in the running game, although that isn’t a sure thing. He is a great run defender without question, but asking someone his size to take on double teams at the next level with regularity isn’t all that wise.
But compared to the majority of guards and centers, Thomas has extreme quickness. He could quickly become a great penetrator who harasses quarterbacks right up the middle of the formation. Some have even compared him to Aaron Donald, although that might be a little rich.
Ideally, his new team would mix, match and combine the assets that Thomas provides. An obvious comparison in this regard is Seattle’s Michael Bennett. Thomas has very powerful hands and is very quick to shed at the college level. Thomas also is clearly getting better year after year and is coming off a simply outstanding final season at Stanford.
He is smart and works very hard at his craft. He is obviously very versatile and can even handle some two-gapping duties on a limited basis. Thomas is a plus athlete who tested well at the combine, and those numbers translate to the field with regularity.
So where should Thomas land next Thursday night? Operating under the assumption that Cleveland takes Garrett first overall (it would be a dreadful decision if they did otherwise), Thomas should be in play as early as the second pick to the 49ers. In fact, Thomas would be the right choice for San Francisco.
This draft doesn’t set up very well for the massively rebuilding 49ers. Ideally, there would be a strong quarterback prospect on the board for them to take and build around. That isn’t the case at all.
Or, it would be outstanding for San Francisco — who has needs basically everywhere — to be in a position where teams are clamoring to move to the second slot for a premium prospect. The 49ers should use all 15 minutes of the clock time to try to move down.
However, that seems unlikely right now. The reason is, who is the player that another team coveted so much that they would send the 49ers a wealth of draft capital to acquire? Maybe the rumors are true that Cleveland wants to move from the No. 12 slot all the way up to No. 2 to take Mitchell Trubisky. While that would be extremely unwise from the Browns’ perspective, it is possible. Other than that, it doesn’t seem likely that San Francisco will have suitors for the second selection overall.
That is a problem because while Thomas is an excellent prospect, there are a handful of other players on his same tier. Not a single player stands out above all else once Garrett is off the board.
That is unfortunate for the 49ers, but the show must go on, and if they can’t get out of the two hole, Thomas should be the selection. Here is why.
Coach Kyle Shanahan has taken over as the head coach of this organization, and San Francisco is now going to install a defense similar to the one in Atlanta. That scheme is mimicking the one that Falcons coach Dan Quinn orchestrated in Seattle while he was the defensive coordinator. Robert Saleh, who spent time on the Seahawks staff, is now in charge of this side of the ball for Shanahan. Saleh’s defense is highly devoid of talent. Making this defense in the image of the one they will play twice a year in Seattle is going to take a lot of time.
The Seahawks defense is loaded with stars, but Earl Thomas is the most important piece of that puzzle. But a close second is Bennett. While Malik Hooker has some highly impressive Ed Reed/Earl Thomas traits, Thomas is the less risky pick at No. 2.
But what about Erik Armstead and DeForest Buckner, the two most recent first round picks for San Francisco? Even though Thomas could line up in the same spots on the defensive line, when is having too many talented young defensive lineman a bad thing? And hey, the 49ers could still entertain trade offers for Armstead or Buckner to accumulate more draft picks.
Armstead and Buckner were drafted by a different regime to play defensive end in what was a 3-4 scheme and then to move inside on throwing downs. Obviously, Armstead and Bucker are cut from the same cloth, but Thomas has very few similarities in body type or style of play. These two being on the roster should by no means affect the 49ers decision regarding Thomas, with the hope that he will be their Bennett for years to come.