Editor’s note: This is the home article of a series examining the rookie season of 49ers defensive lineman Solomon Thomas.
As a No. 3 overall draft pick in 2017—the first player selected by a new regime of Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch—and a transitioning 22-year-old that people have varying opinions of, Solomon Thomas seemed like someone worth looking closely at.
The big discrepancy about the 49ers defender is where he belongs on the D-line. He officially lists as a DL by the team, and an "edge" on other stats sites. We saw in-season that he played mostly outside as a rookie, but was anywhere between the 3-technique (outside shoulder of the guard) and wide 9-technique (outside shoulder of the tight end).
Watching him during the season, it seemed he was having more success bulling guards and slipping interiors gaps than trying to loop around 310-pound tackles, which wasn't a surprise due to Thomas' broad build, and roots in Stanford's 3-4 defense.
Pro Football Focus would agree. Thomas ranked 92nd out of 106 qualified edge defenders in terms of overall grade, according to the analytics site. And more specifically, his 86.8 pass-rush grade in his final year at Stanford dropped to a 46.8 in his rookie year with the 49ers.
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh in late December told KNBR the team may consider getting Thomas more work on the interior. The next month, Saleh further acknowledged the lack of pass-rush presence by the team's first-round pick.
"There's a developmental part that we need to get to with regard to consistency in pass rush, which I think he’ll reach," Saleh said, via Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. "I'm not really concerned about it. But as far as his growth, I’m very pleased with where he's at."
Of course, more than pass rush ability will go into the team's decision on where they play Thomas. To project his future home on the line, I wanted to look at the total package from 2017, finding out exactly what kind of player Thomas is on the outside against how he is on the inside, while breaking it down by the run and pass.
For this study on Thomas, "outside" is defined as shading the outside shoulder of the tackle or further out in space, while "inside" is when Thomas is covering the face of either guard or anywhere in between. His run and pass snaps have been segmented into each.
Part I: EDGE vs. Run
Part II: EDGE vs. Pass
Part III: IDL vs. Run
Part IV: IDL vs. Pass
Media courtesy AP Images