Name: Solomon Thomas
Position: Defensive End
Class: Redshirt Sophomore
Games Watched: 2016 – vs Kansas State, vs Washington, vs UCLA
Overview: Born in Chicago, went to high school in Texas, then college in California! A nice little tour, that. Four-star recruit, who redshirted in 2014. Thomas started in 2015, earning Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 honours. Broke out in 2016, with 8 sacks, 15 tackles-for-loss, 62 total tackles. Earned first team All-Pac-12 honours. Won the Rose Bowl after the 2015 season; Sun Bowl after the 2016.
All the physical traits you want are there with Thomas. He’s quick, and uses his speed well in the pass rush, either blowing past linemen not fully set, or even on stunts flying outside the tackles. When he’s going for the quarterback, he is super keen and has a fantastic first step. While that can lead to him blowing by an evasive quarterback, that happens to all pass rushers sometimes. But that first step does give him enough to squeeze between guards and tackles, giving him a free run at the quarterback or a free shot at a running back.
He’s strong, too. Against Kansas State he had the tackle #71 on skates time and again, driving him back and collapsing the pocket. As impressive as that is, he was driving guards back too. For those that don’t know, guards are basically immobile lumps of toughness. No wonder he was so effective as a 3-4 end.
There’s a lot to like about his technique, too. Where strength and speed fails, he’s got the handwork to shed blocks or push through the guard-tackle gap. Against UCLA he repeatedly made it look like the right guard and tackle were lined up way too far apart. Same game, he puts everything together, barrelling into the tackle (speed), shoving him back (strength), and tossing his arms off the block without a care in the world (technique). That’s a pretty complete package.
In the NFL, he’ll refine his pass rushing moves, but the foundations are there. He brought out a spin move tackles a few times with varying success. But he’s got willing and understanding that will go a long way.
I also like his tackling ability. He – and Stanford in general – were inconsistent against Washington, but he was often wrapping the running back up. Tackling is one of the hardest things to develop in the NFL, so to show an understanding and application of the fundamentals definitely helps.
A lot of people are projecting Solomon Thomas a 4-3 end, or maybe even a 3-4 linebacker. This is where it gets tricky – at Stanford he was predominantly a 3-4 end, and often lined up opposite right tackle and right guard. So we know he had good results, but hasn’t gone up against elite left tackles. That’s not a deal-breaker, top edge rushers like Khalil Mack and Von Miller line up on right tackles normally. It just adds that touch of uncertainty. You’d imagine from his athletic measurements Thomas would still have success against a fair few NFL left tackles, mind.
Part of why he’s not projected as a 3-4 end is that he’s not as strong against the run. His instincts are mostly good, though he did pick the wrong option with handoffs and fakes a few times. He can get shoved back by more determined linemen, and his footwork can look good rather than great. He’ll need some refinement to know how to stand his ground, and use his strength to stop himself going backwards. Don’t get me wrong, he was often stout against the run in college. He just needs a bit more for the NFL you’d think. We know he can drive himself forwards well enough, so I suspect that’ll be just coaching.
I think Thomas is maybe a touch behind where Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa were coming into the league. He’s certainly two notches behind Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney. The interesting debate for teams will be Thomas versus Derek Barnett. Barnett’s been hyper-productive in college but doesn’t appear to have the physical potential. Thomas has been good, and has shown he can do everything. He hasn’t done it all completely consistently, and his measurable make you think there’s more to come. But if he doesn’t kick on/pad himself out, he’ll not achieve as much, you’d think, as Barnett. I think Thomas will go first because he more looks the part, and he has a higher ceiling, but he’s got a lower floor too.
Grade: Top-10 pick.