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49ers in Five: Will Ambry Thomas fall into the same trap as other second year players?

We do not need another Brandon Aiyuk situation

Perhaps no player took a bigger jump in development in 2021 than rookie cornerback Ambry Thomas. With the secondary being one of the 49ers’ biggest areas of need this offseason, Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch will have to decide how much of Thomas’ late-season emergence they can trust. In his latest article for NBC Sports Bay Area, Matt Maiocco wonders if Thomas can avoid the sophomore pitfalls of other 49ers in the Shanahan era.

Inactive and overlooked for much of the year, Thomas was pressed into service late in the season again in Cincinnati and showed flashes of the talent that made him a third-round pick in last April’s draft. The more he played, the better he looked.

“He’s definitely made a believer out of me the second half of this season,” Shanahan said at one point this year, “I wouldn’t have believed it the way it started off. It sounds harsh. But it took time. When he got his opportunity, he was ready and showed what’s in him.”

Thomas capped off his late-season charge with the game-ending interception against the Rams in Week 18 to send the 49ers to the playoffs. The question now becomes, will we see that same Ambry Thomas next year?

In his latest column for NBC Sports Bay Area, Matt Maiocco writes, “Thomas has to avoid a phenomena we’ve seen from other 49ers who had some success at the ends of their rookie seasons. He needs to come back hungrier, rather than feeling as if he’s got it all figured out.”

Given what we’ve seen from the sophomore seasons of Dante Pettis and Brandon Aiyuk, it’s a legitimate question to ask. Pettis never reached the levels he showed at the end of 2018, and Aiyuk didn’t get his situation sorted out this season until after the 49ers’ bye week.

Will Thomas follow a similar meandering route to success? Also, given how close Maiocco is to the team, is it fair to wonder if he’s passing along his opinion or a message he’s gotten from his sources atop the organization?

“Thomas does not have a starting job guaranteed,” he writes, “But he heads into the offseason as a favorite if he continues to work hard at his craft.”

While we’ll have to wait months to figure out that answer to those questions, Thomas himself will have to answer them every day of the offseason. He’ll either use the end of this season as a springboard to even greater heights in 2022 or turn back into the guy that couldn’t even dress on game days for most of the year.

Check out today’s 49ers in Five podcast to hear more about this and everything happening with the team in about five minutes. Available everywhere podcasts are found.