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Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

PFF: 49ers’ Solomon Thomas among 2nd-year players who could make the biggest leaps in 2018

Feb 15, 2018 at 2:04 PM--

San Francisco 49ers color analyst Tim Ryan joined KNBR on Tuesday and said he would like to see defensive lineman Solomon Thomas understand more of the game during his second year with the team.

"When to turn it on and when to chase from the backside," Ryan said on the "Tolbert & Lund" show. "When to expect the bootleg on down and distance stuff. Getting more on the edge of a player on the inside as a rusher rather than taking guys right down the middle. Just all those things that I think will come with just realizing that you don't need to go a million miles an hour physically every play. Sometimes it's good to kind of use your brain and just be creative and make plays. I think that's the next step for him mentally."

The 49ers spent a high draft pick – the third overall – on Thomas. Given his draft position, it's easy to say that Thomas' rookie campaign was a disappointment. He finished the year with 41 combined tackles and three sacks through 14 games and 12 starts, which aren't necessarily numbers that you envision when you hear "No. 3 overall pick." There is room for improvement. Thomas knows that, and so do his coaches.

"He's a very explosive athlete, he plays really good with his hands, he gets knock-back in the run game," 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said before the final game of the 2017 season. "There's the developmental part that we need to get to with regards to consistency in pass rush, which I think he'll reach. I'm not really concerned about it. But as far as his growth, I'm very pleased with where he's at."

Head coach Kyle Shanahan felt Thomas' MCL sprain, which he sustained during a Week 8 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, set him back a bit in his rookie-year growth.

"Just like most rookies, I think he's been up and down throughout the year," Shanahan said on December 27. "I thought he started off playing hard, started playing at his highest level right before his injury. I know the injury was frustrating for him, took him a little longer for him to come back. Once he did come back, I thought he was a little bit rusty like they all are when they miss some time."

Pro Football Focus saw room for improvement and listed Thomas among the top 10 players who could make the biggest leaps forward in their second year.

William Moy wrote the following within the feature.

"Solomon Thomas finished his rookie season ranked 92nd out of 106 qualified edge defenders in terms of overall grade, certainly not what you're hoping for out of the third-overall pick in the draft. The 49ers had a bit of a log-jam along the defensive line when they selected him in the first round and to alleviate that, they decided to play Thomas on the edge – lining him up outside of the offensive tackle – after he spent virtually all of 2015 and 2016 lining up as an interior defender for Stanford. Despite the position change, Thomas still flashed some above-average play in run-defense (his 79.3 run-defense grade ranked 45th) and he closed out the season on a relative high note, finishing two of his final three games with an overall grade of at least 70.0 (a number he passed just five times all season). With another year in his new position, it would be shocking if he doesn't take a big step forward in Year 2."

We had an opportunity to speak with Thomas in December for our "No Huddle" podcast. He knows there's still room for growth as an NFL player.

"I've learned a lot from my coaches, my teammates, and I'm growing as a player," Thomas said. "And I feel pretty good. I have a long way to go, obviously. I want to play better, become a better player. I feel like I'm on the right track and I feel like, in this defense with these coaches, with these players, I'm going to progress to be the player that I want to be in this system."

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