5. Solomon Thomas, DT, 49ers
Before fans leave the article enraged, we know 49ers have been here before. The third overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft has been one of the biggest busts in franchise history. Luckily for the team, it hasn’t caused too much of a problem.
Thomas has gotten plenty of playing time before, but the presence of Armstead of Buckner on the interior meant he never could really adapt to any one role.
Instead, Thomas would receive some opportunities to spell on the interior, but received more consistent opportunities rushing the passer from the edge.
Rushing from the edge requires a level of athleticism that working on the interior doesn’t. Thomas had to stay around 260 pounds to try and maximize his unexceptional athleticism on the edge.
That became a double-edged sword. He didn’t quite have the strength he needed to be productive on the inside but lacked the athleticism to be a difference-maker from the edge.
Now with Dee Ford and Nick Bosa solidified as the team’s passing down edge rushers, the 49ers don’t have the same pressure to force Thomas outside. With Buckner gone, it also leaves an open spot for Thomas.
D.J. Jones and 2020 first-round pick Javon Kinlaw are obviously well-positioned to emerge as well, but no one played more defensive snaps on their line than Buckner last season. Everyone will need to contribute.
It’s Thomas’ final year under contract and if he needed any more motivation that should do it. Thomas is still only fifth on the list because his first three seasons have been so mediocre.
Still, he was the third overall pick for a reason. Playing snaps alongside players like Bosa, Armstead, Jones, and Ford should enable him plenty of opportunities to break out.