Heading into last season, the hope for San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Solomon Thomas was that “less would be more.” In 2019, with the influx of talent along the Niners defensive line, Thomas became an afterthought in the rotation when the 49ers were at full strength. Thomas, an undersized defensive tackle prospect with high-end athleticism and a great motor, has yet to string together enough consistency where the coaching staff feels like the defense needs Solly on the field.
Thomas played the fewest snaps in his three years with the Niners in 2019. He actually had one of his most productive seasons, though, when you look at how he did on a per snap basis. What remains consistent is that Thomas has struggled to get after the quarterback no matter where he’s being deployed from. If he couldn’t take advantage of the talent around him last year, what makes us think that will change?
Age: 24 (turns 25 on August 26)
Experience: Three accrued seasons
Thomas is entering the final year of his rookie contract. The 49ers declined to pick up his fifth-year option, which made sense considering you’d have to pay Thomas over $13 million in 2020. Thomas’s cap number for 2020 will be $9 million. He’s guaranteed $4.3 million with a roster bonus of $4.6 million.
How he might improve in 2020
There are whispers about Thomas bulking up and solely focusing on playing defensive tackle. Per PFF, Thomas played 236 of his 479 snaps inside at defensive tackle. If you watched Thomas last year, you know that the majority of his production came inside. Interior lineman can’t handle Solly’s quickness, especially when the 49ers play games with their defensive line and get them on the move. With the number of edge rushers on the team, it’s a waste to put Thomas on the edge. We know that’s not his strength.
With the injuries that happened along the defensive line last year, Robert Saleh had no choice to put Thomas on the edge. Injuries hurt Thomas, who still has yet to play a full season at one position. If Thomas gets that chance in 2020, he’ll have his best season yet.
What to expect in 2020
Let’s assume Thomas has an opportunity to play defensive tackle and defensive tackle only in 2020. That will change the outcome of his season. Thomas would be the first man off the bench to give a breather to either Javon Kinlaw or D.J. Jones. The nice part about the 49ers defensive line is they have versatility everywhere. If Jones needs a break, Kinlaw can slide over and play 1-technique, and Thomas can play 3-technique. If the 49ers want to go with a NASCAR type of package with pure speed, Thomas can play over the center on passing downs. The 49ers used Thomas as a nose tackle occasionally last year, and he surprisingly held up well.
I don’t know what to expect from Thomas in 2020. Any production is welcomed. I hope he can be productive enough as a role player, leading to bringing Thomas back in San Francisco.