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Scouting Jets defensive lineman Solomon Thomas

Las Vegas Raiders v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

During free agency, the Jets signed former Oakland Raiders defensive lineman Solomon Thomas to a one-year deal. Today we break him down in detail.

The 26-year old Thomas is listed at 6’2” and 295 pounds and was the third overall pick out of Stanford in 2017. He has started 30 games in his NFL career, but only five since 2018. He has 9.5 career sacks and his 3.5 sacks in 2021 represented a career-high.

Background

Thomas was a four star prospect out of high school and was recruited to Stanford, where he redshirted his first season in 2014.

In 2015, he moved right into a starting role and racked up 39 tackles and 3.5 sacks as he was named an all-Pac 12 honorable mention.

After his redshirt sophomore season, he opted to enter the 2017 NFL draft having been named as the Morris Trophy winner and an all-Big 12 first teamer. His stock soared after a dominating bowl game performance against Mitchell Trubisky’s North Carolina Tar Heels.

Thomas put together a spectacular combine workout, convincing teams he was athletic enough to play all along the defensive line rather than potentially being a tweener without an NFL position.

After this, he was a projected top-five pick and was the second defensive player selected after Myles Garrett when San Francisco took him with the third overall pick.

Over the first two seasons, Thomas started 25 games and showed flashes of potential but never really put it all together as he had just four sacks and saw his production reduce in year two.

He moved into more of a rotational role in 2019 and continued to fall frustratingly short of expectations. The 49ers then looked set to give him a good opportunity to play inside more in 2020 as they traded DeForest Buckner and drafted his replacement in the first round.

Unfortunately, Thomas suffered a season ending injury early on in the second game of the season and, having not exercised his fifth year option, the 49ers allowed him to walk at the end of the season.

He played in a rotational role again with the Raiders last season and actually set career marks for tackles (34), quarterback hits (12), sacks (3.5), forced fumbles (two) and passes defensed (two).

Thomas was given a one-year contract by the Jets, worth up to $2.25 million with most of it guaranteed.

Now let’s take a look at what Thomas brings to the table, divided into categories.

Measurables/Athleticism

Thomas’ weight has fluctuated during his time in the league, usually based on his role. He is currently listed at 295 by NFL.com but only 256 by the Jets official site. Other sources list him at 280 but he was 273 when he did his combine workout. Even if that 295 figure is accurate, he’s undersized for an interior role and forced to rely on technique and quickness. He also has below average length.

During that combine workout, Thomas was incredible, as he ran a 4.69 in the 40-yard dash, recorded 30 bench press reps and posted outstanding explosion and agility numbers.

Usage

Having entered the league with a reputation for someone who can play anywhere along the line, Thomas has struggled to forge an identity at the NFL level. He mostly played inside at UNC but during his first two seasons with the 49ers he saw most of his work on the edge, although in some respects that was due to injuries forcing the 49ers to use him that way.

In 2019 and 2020, they mixed up his role a bit more to give him more reps on the inside and he played mostly as a defensive tackle with the Raiders last season.

Motor

Thomas has a reputation as someone who has a non-stop motor and refuses to stay blocked. He’ll also chase plays down from behind or across the field. He keeps working here to eventually get the sack.

During his four years with the 49ers, Thomas saw his playing time reduce each season. With the Raiders, he didn’t make a single start but did play 48 percent of the defensive snaps - the most he had played since 2018.

Pass rush

Over the course of his career so far, Thomas hasn’t been a particularly productive pass rusher in terms of generating constant pressure, but his numbers last season were pretty good for an interior role.

Moving him to an edge rush role seems to have slowed his progress because he showed limited ability to bend the edge, didn’t have a consistent approach and had limited success in collapsing the pocket with speed-to-power moves. However, he flashed an explosive first step at times.

49ers fans wanted to see Thomas get more chances to work inside and, when he did, his quickness was an asset.

It’s the combination of Thomas’ explosiveness and power that makes him so difficult to stop when he puts it all together. He dominates the right guard here.

Run defense

Thomas was rated as the top run defender in the nation by Pro Football Focus in his final year in college, but was ranked in last place in the league for run defense by the same source in 2021. That’s the concern here, that if Thomas is going to play a full time role inside, he’s going to get routinely blocked out of plays .

At times, he has shown he can drive a tackle back into the backfield to set the edge has the strength to shed blocks and the ability to shoot gaps or move laterally downhill to get in on stops.

However, it’s his consistency that needs to improve in terms of holding up against down blocks and double teams at the point of attack. He sometimes does show signs that he’s figuring out how to do this better.

Footwork/Technique

Thomas has quick feet, which reportedly benefited from Irish dance classes he took when he was younger. However, he has issues with maintaining his pad level at times.

As a pass rusher, Thomas uses a variety of moves and looks good at times but perhaps needs to improve the timing of these moves to make them more effective. When he gets it right, he can blow past blockers quickly.

He’s not known for his bull rushing but you can see here he gets in a low and powerful first strike with good accuracy to rock his man back and put him on skates.

His hand usage to shed blocks and get separation when rushing the passer is well-developed and smooth, although he lacks the natural length of many defensive linemen.

Special teams

Thomas has rushed punts and kicks during his career but has yet to make any major contributions at the collegiate or NFL level. He briefly saw some action as a blocker on the kick return unit in San Francisco as well.

Tackling

Thomas hasn’t been a particularly productive tackler at the NFL level and his tackle efficiency was poor in his first two seasons. It’s been a lot better over the last three, although he did still miss a few tackles last year.

He does a good job of wrapping up and hauling down runners but perhaps lacks a little range due to his below-average length.

Coverage

Thomas hasn’t dropped into coverage much, especially since he’s gone back to being more of an interior defender. However, he’s had a few plays in the past where he’s been isolated against a receiver.

In 2021, he batted down a couple of passes at the line of scrimmage, registering the first two passes defensed of his career.

Instincts/Intelligence

The Stanford-educated Thomas is smart with a good football IQ and play recognition abilities.

As noted, his approach when rushing the passer could be better in terms of reading his blocker and deciding when to use counter moves.

He has a quick first step but can be guilty of guessing the snap count and getting it wrong at times. He had six offside penalties in his last year in college and has jumped 13 times in his first five seasons.

Attitude/Demeanor

Thomas is a player with good character who was a leader in college and with the Raiders. On this play, he stepped in to protect a teammate, drawing off-setting penalties.

In total, he’s been called for five personal fouls as he was also flagged four times for roughing the passer and fined once.

Off the field, he runs a foundation that raises awareness of mental health issues and suicide in honor of his late sister.

Injuries

Thomas only missed two games in his first three seasons, as he was dealing with a low grade knee sprain in his rookie year. However, he did also have a preseason concussion in 2018.

In the offseason after the 2019 season, Thomas had a surgery to repair a torn labrum and then had another a few months later due to a bone spur in his ankle. He then suffered an early season ACL tear and had to deal with another bone spur during his recovery.

Despite all these setbacks, he played all 17 games in 2021, which only four defensive players - three of them reserves - managed to do for the Jets.

Scheme Fit

Thomas returns to Robert Saleh’s defense which he already played in for his first four seasons. However, it obviously didn’t go as well as was hoped. Saleh seemed to come around to the idea that Thomas would be at his best on the inside towards the end of his tenure with the 49ers and he perhaps would have made progress in 2020 had the season not ended prematurely for him due to injury.

He can be expected to be one of the rotational backups at defensive tackle but could also find himself on the edge in certain situations, as Sheldon Rankins did last season.

Thomas has been a teammate of Austin Walter, Tevin Coleman, Kai Nacua, Isaiah Williams and DJ Reed while with the 49ers and Javin White while with the Raiders.

Conclusions

It’s highly unlikely that Thomas will ever live up to his draft position and quite possible that he’s lost a step since coming back from his knee injury.

However, putting that aside, the Jets are bringing in a low-cost rotational lineman who has good character and was productive in a rotational role last season. The athletic ability he brings to the table should help him make some plays in 2022, especially with the other talented players around him.

While his consistency against the run will need to improve, the Jets can always mitigate that by employing him situationally if necessary. On the whole, this seems like a promising move without much of a downside.