Prior to each NFL draft, the folks at Football Outsiders release their SackSEER projections for edge rushers. They base SackSEER projections on, “a statistical analysis of the factors that have historically correlated to success as an NFL edge rusher.” Among the stats it measures:
- The edge rusher's projected draft position. These projections use the rankings from ESPN's Scouts, Inc.;
- An "explosion index" that measures the prospect's scores in the 40-yard dash, the vertical leap, and the broad jump in pre-draft workouts;
- The prospect's score on the three-cone drill;
- A metric called SRAM ("sack rate as modified") which measures the prospect's per-game sack productivity, but with adjustments for factors such as early entry in the NFL draft and position switches during college;
- The prospect's college passes defensed divided by college games played;
- The number of medical redshirts the player either received or was eligible for.
They released this year’s projections a week before the draft, and San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Solomon Thomas received a strong projection. Texas A&M edge rusher Myles Garrett was atop the board with 31.9 sacks projected through year 5, but Thomas came in second with 24.2 sacks projected through year 5.
Thomas is a bit of a tweener in terms of playing both defensive tackle and defensive end. Also, his production in college was not overly impressive. However, his measurements were impressive, and afford a chance to gamble on his athleticism. FO said similar historical prospects coming out of college included Justin Smith and Cameron Jordan. They had this to say about Thomas:
By contrast to Garrett, Thomas is thoroughly average for a first-round prospect, primarily due to mediocre college production. His best season was his junior year, in which he recorded 8.5 sacks in 13 games. By contrast, Garrett's worst year had 8.5 sacks in 10 games. Moreover, although Thomas' college career was short, he failed to record even a single pass defensed, which is a major red flag. But Thomas made up significant ground at the NFL combine, where he tested above average in every drill that SackSEER measures despite his bigger-than-average size (273 pounds). He had a particularly impressive 6.95-second time in the three-cone. Thomas is a decent prospect and a good fit for a team willing to gamble a little bit on athleticism and upside over college production.
The 49ers have opened minicamp with Thomas playing some strong defensive end. He is a versatile option, and the thought is he could move inside to defensive tackle in sub-packages. I wouldn’t be surprised if he got some looks at LEO as well, just to give him as many opportunities as possible.
Thomas will miss most of the 49ers offseason workout program due to the Stanford academic calendar. He’ll have access to the playbook and practice film, so it is not a complete loss, but it is not ideal. He’ll have a day or two at the end after his finals wrap, so the coaching staff will have time to work with him and get him a plan for the month and a half leading up to training camp. How that takes will be critical as Thomas prepares for his rookie season.