Over the last couple years, the 49ers have done a solid job in bringing in competitive undrafted free agents. In recent years, undrafted free agents like Demarcus Dobbs, Ian Williams and Tramaine Brock have all earned their way onto the 53-man roster. The rookie season for UDFAs is often fairly low key, but it gives them a chance to get in solid practice reps and further learn the playbook.
The 49ers will welcome in 17 undrafted free agents this season. The team has one roster spot still open, so it is possible they could add one more such player. In the meantime, with things quieting down for the next few weeks, I thought we'd take a look at each of the 49ers undrafted free agents as best we can. There is more information available for some of these guys, but we can at least take a look at how they might impact the roster.
We'll start this rundown with now former Stanford safety Michael Thomas. The 49ers added three Stanford players as undrafted free agents, including Thomas, DT Matthew Masifilo and WR Chris Owusu. While Owusu has received a ton of attention this offseason, Thomas might have the best chance of all three to make the 49ers roster. After Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner, C.J. Spillman, Colin Jones and Trenton Robinson are all the 49ers have as draft picks or experienced players.
2008: 39 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception, 2 PDs
2009: 23 tackles, 1 sack, 5 PDs
2010: 61 tackles, 1 interception, 3 FF, 3 PDs
2011: 66 tackles, 1 sack, 3 interceptions, 5 PDs
Positives: Tough, versatile defensive back with marginal size for the next level. Plays with good quickness, shows a burst of closing speed and gets outside the numbers to make plays on the pass. Picks up assignments, works well with teammates and gets a nice jump to the play. Instinctive and stays with assignments. Works hard to get off blocks and voluntarily defends the run.
Negatives: Outmatched by larger receivers. Struggles in man coverage or making plays with his back to the ball. Not a strong wrap-up tackler.
Analysis: Thomas has been reliable the past two seasons at Stanford yet lacks the measurables to be anything other than a backup in the NFL. He offers potential in a zone system at cornerback or safety and comes with a special teams mentality.
Vic Fangio Press Conference:
What kind of player was S Michael Thomas for you at Stanford?
"He was a good player. Mike was a corner when I got there at Stanford, but we had a need at safety, and I felt that he would be better served for us at safety. So, he played safety in our base defense and then he played our nickelback in our sub-defense, which you play a lot in college. So, he was a nickel and a safety for us at Stanford, which is what he's playing here. And Mike's a good football player. He had a lot to do with the success that Stanford's had here recently, and hopefully he'll be able to transition that into the NFL."
Does he have a bit of an advantage right off the bat because of his familiarity with the defense?
"A little bit, but really our defense is a lot different from what we played at Stanford because the game's different. The college game is played on a different field. It's played defending different style of offenses than in pro. There is some carryover. There is some calls that he would recognize and have a feel for, but not as much as you would think. It's a different game."
Outlook for 2012
Michael Thomas faces a tough battle for a roster spot, but conceivably has as good a chance as any of the undrafted free agents. The 49ers safety position features Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner starting, with the backups potentially including C.J. Spillman and Trenton Robinson. Colin Jones is listed as a safety as well, but he focuses almost entirely on special teams, and has been getting as much work at wide receiver as safety.
The 49ers started the season with six safeties, which would seem to open the door for Thomas. While the defense might be a lot different compared to when Fangio was at Stanford, Thomas still has the benefit of knowing how the coaching staff operates, and has a pre-existing relationship with a lot of the coaches. Whether that is enough to win him a job remains to be seen, but every advantage helps for an undrafted free agent.