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49ers training camp spotlight: Ambry Thomas’ strengths and weaknesses

After listening to Leo Luna and Javier Vega on the Oh Hey There podcast, I decided to take a deeper look at cornerback Ambry Thomas.

San Francisco 49ers Training Camp Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The 49ers cornerback room is currently the weakest unit on San Francisco’s defense. Furthermore, Jimmie Ward and Jason Verrett are the only dynamic defensive backs in the Niners training camp. So as far as depth, it is clear someone needs to step up.

K’Waun Williams has been an essential cornerback when healthy, but he was sidelined twice last season and likely won’t return after this year. Additionally, Emmanuel Moseley landing on the Reserve/COVID-19 hampered the CB room greatly. Ultimately, leading Leo Luna and Javier Vega to spark the question of Ambry Thomas potentially being CB2 this year? Where both Luna and Vega expressed the need for better play from at CB2.

Thomas played valuable snaps for the Michigan Wolverines in 2019 as he earned Big Ten All-Conference honors. All after battling through colitis, losing and regaining over 30 pounds, and essentially missing training camp.

Ambry Thomas’s impressive Relative Athletic Score shows on film, notably in man coverage. However, he tends to grab receivers, especially on the top of routes overly. Thomas has a high upside, but I don’t know if he is ready to play outside corner right away in the NFL. Altogether, we will look at Thomas’ strengths, and weaknesses as San Francisco needs a corner to step up now.

Strengths

Thomas may be looked at as a man corner because of his athleticism, but he has a natural feel when in zone coverage. His backpedal, and lateral quickness shows most when Thomas is asked to spot drop.

Thomas rarely takes false steps when coming out of his break. Instead, he makes a play on the running back in each play as the flat defender in Cover 2. As offenses try to get the ball out quickly, it is good to see Thomas react quickly and make a play on the ball carrier.

Thomas struggled when receiver screens were run his way, so it was good to see him make a play to defeat the block and force the play out of bounds. It shows up that Thomas is an unwilling tackler on film, but he takes on the pulling tackle to help set the edge in the second play. If Thomas can prove he is willing to do the dirty work, playing time will be rewarded.

Thomas is so fluid in man coverage that he often runs the route for the receiver. The QB is flushed out in the second play, but you can see Thomas’ ability to mirror receivers and show his fluid hips. San Franciso needs to be able to run man coverage, and Thomas can contribute there.

Ambry Thomas had the strongest game of his career against Illinois in 2019. He had all three of his season pass breakups in this game. First, Thomas showed his closeout speed from the slot corner position. Then, the QB extends the play, and Thomas plays through the whistle to get the pass breakup. Lastly, Thomas is targeted deep, but he gets his head around to get another pass breakup.

Weaknesses

This could be Thomas taking advantage of college football being more lenient with their pass interference rules. Although, Thomas constantly grabs at the top of the route when he is already in a good position. He wasn’t called for a penalty on either rep, but they would both likely draw flags in the NFL. I could be overreacting, but you don’t want this to carry over.

Ambry Thomas had several good reps when guarding Chase Claypool in 2019. At the same time, he gets beat, similar to Emmanuel Moseley, in the right place but just doesn't make the play. To make a jump on the depth chart, Thomas will have to increase his PBU rate.

To be labeled a “physical” corner, Thomas doesn’t play like on in the run game. Struggling to get off receiver blocks and open-field tackling will have to be improved at the next level. I was stunned to see DeVota Smith drive Thomas off the line.

2021 Outlook

Pass coverage has overvalued pass rush in recent years, and the Niners should be worried about their corner depth. Tim Harris and Ken Webster getting first and second-team reps emphasize that. I think Ambry Thomas will see action at Nickel corner before he is tried outside.

Thomas clearly has the potential to play in 2021. Then again, he has to improve his consistency. Grant Cohn of Sports illustrated noted that Thomas struggled in Day 2 and Day 4 of 49ers training camp. The opportunity for Ambry Thomas to make an impact this season is still there. It is up to him to take it.