Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports



In only eleven snaps on defense before leaving the game with an injury that wound up being far less serious than it looked, Reuben Foster was able to show everyone why he was considered the top linebacker prospect in the 2017 draft. He had accumulated three quick solo tackles and broke up another pass before leaving the game early with a lower leg injury.

On the other hand, the 49ers' other first-round pick from the 2017 draft, Solomon Thomas, was available the entire game and played the third most snaps of any defensive lineman on the 49ers. Thomas had a relatively quiet game, netting two tackles, but more importantly, he was unable to generate any sort of pressure on Cam Newton. While this held true for just about all of the defensive players in week one, it is perhaps most disappointing coming from such a high draft choice.

Now, before this gets out of hand, let me make a couple of quick statements. Solomon Thomas is better known as a run defender, so it should be no surprise that the run defense is the stronger part of Thomas's game at this point. It is also important to note that this was his very first game of his career, and one game does not a career make.

Still, looking at the overall team makeup and the success of other rookies in week one of the NFL season, there are a number of reasons to question whether or not Solomon Thomas was the correct call back in April.

To start, when evaluating which positions on an NFL team need upgrades, it is important to look at the current roster to determine what talent is there and which players need to be replaced or upgraded. Going into the 2017 NFL draft, there were few position groups on the roster that did not need to be upgraded. The 2016 49ers were a mess, and that is evidenced by the fact that the team only kept 16 players from the 2016 roster on the 2017 team. However, there was one group that already had a lot of talent thanks to first-round picks being used there in 2015 and 2016 – the defensive line. DeForrest Buckner and Arik Armstead were already on the roster, and while neither have yet become dominant forces on the line, both had already shown considerable talent.

The problem here is that when penciling in starters back in April, the five-technique spot on the line looked like a certainty for Arik Armstead as it seemed to fit his strengths pretty well. Solomon Thomas might be a better fit, but Armstead was one of the few players on the team who likely did not need to be immediately upgraded. Instead, Thomas's addition to the team forced Armstead out to defensive end where he lost some weight in order to be able to better rush the passer. Alas, that did not happen throughout the preseason or against the Panthers.

The pass rush for a defense is among the most important aspects of an NFL team, and without one a team is going to have little chance of success on defense. This is abundantly obvious on the 49ers. So it was certainly no shock that Solomon Thomas was the choice when the 49ers selected him as he was perhaps the best option to get after the passer after Myles Garrett, who went first overall to the Browns. However, if neither he nor Armstead is able to put pressure on the quarterback, this means the team simply made a minor upgrade at the 5-technique spot on the defensive line, and likely will only keep one of them around in coming seasons.

If the team had few needs, a move like this is easily defensible. However, the team going into the 2017 draft had plenty of needs, and a few of those needs are still prevalent, including defensive back, wide receiver, offensive line, and quarterback.

After the trade with the Bears, the top quarterback in the draft was off the board, and it is clear the 49ers had no interest in taking Mitch Trubisky anyway. There were also no offensive linemen worthy of so high a draft pick. From there, things can get a bit more complicated.

At wide receiver, Corey Davis from Western Michigan was available and would end up going two spots later to the Tennessee Titans. Davis came out of college as the most productive wide receiver in FBS history and has great size and hands for the NFL. On a team where size at the wide receiver position is seriously needed, Davis would look to be a great fit. In his first week of action, Davis was very active for the Titans, pulling in six receptions for 69 yards and making some key plays for that team.

Taken immediately after Davis in the 2017 draft was Jamal Adams, an impressive safety out of LSU. Adams came into the NFL with the ability to play either safety spot, which means he could have been played at free safety while leaving Jimmie Ward at cornerback, where he has played for the first three years of his career. The impressive interception aside, Adams would have been a big upgrade over Jaquiski Tartt. Adams made some great plays in coverage on Sunday on a similarly talent-deprived Jets team and likely could have looked better if more than 19 of his 75 snaps actually came at safety instead of linebacker. When Jimmie Ward is finally able to play, Ward would make for an immediate upgrade over Dontae Johnson, giving the team a much better secondary. The team always wanted Ward to play FS, but if it was willing to move Armstead would it have done the same for Ward with an Adams selection?

Of course, it is also important to note that the 49ers allegedly had Reuben Foster as the number three player on their board. If the 49ers did decide to go with a player other than Thomas with the third overall pick, it is just as likely that they would have chosen Foster, which would have unknowingly stripped all the value out of that pick (since they would not have known they could have him as late as number 31 where they eventually traded up for him). And without knowing how else the 49ers board was set, it is impossible to guess who they may have taken at number 34 or what targets they may have had for trading back up into the first round.

As mentioned earlier, it was only the first game of the careers for all of these young players. Solomon Thomas could very well pressure Russel Wilson all day this upcoming Sunday and immediately put any sort of doubts aside for another day. Corey Davis and Jamal Adams may have each just played what will be the best games of their NFL careers. Only time will tell whether or not the 49ers made the right selections in the draft, and typically that time will come in a few years, not one game, even if that game was a relatively unimpressive debut for the number three overall pick in the 2017 draft.