There’s very little doubt in the draftnik community that Texas A&M edge-rusher Myles Garrett will be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on April 27. But after that, things cloud up, with any number of potential options being bandied about for the San Francisco 49ers at No. 2.
However, as Jon Schultz of The Sacramento Bee reported, a bit of a consensus appears to be forming, as Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas appears to be emerging as the front-runner. Jacob Infante of Yahoo! Sports is among those predicting the 49ers will pick the 6-foot-3, 273-pounder second overall.
“Whether you rank Thomas as a defensive lineman or as an edge rusher,” Infante said, “there’s no denying that he’s one of the best defenders in this class. His athleticism for his size is very impressive. He shows off great closing speed and has great acceleration off the snap. He also packs a powerful punch, has a solid array of hand moves and is very good as a run stuffer.”
Rob Rang of CBS Sports agrees that Thomas will follow Garrett off the board.
“Head coach Kyle Shanahan was hired to help spark a listless offense that ranked 27th in the NFL in points scored and dead last in passing last season but ignoring better players just to draft a quarterback may only guarantee another poor season in 2017,” Rang wrote. “Thomas is a natural disruptor who has drawn comparisons to Los Angeles Rams star Aaron Donald. He could be the perfect finishing touch for a defense line currently better prepared to stuff the run than bother rival quarterbacks.
“Comparing anyone to a disruptive presence like Donald,” Rang continued, “seems like hyperbole but it is hard not to see the resemblance to the 6-foot-1, 285-pounder given their similar initial burst, functional power, advanced use of hands, and non-stop hustle.”
For his part, Thomas, who had 62 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and eight sacks for Stanford in 2016, said he isn’t ceding anything – including the No. 1 overall pick.
“My versatility, my toughness, that I can fit any system, that there’s no better guy than me in this draft,” Thomas told Cam Inman of The San Jose Mercury News. “It’s a blessing to be a tweener. It’s an advantage to be versatile. It’s an advantage to play in any system. I can play in any system. I can play in a 3-4 or 4-3 (front). Whatever team I’m drafted to and whatever they want me to play, I’m going to work on being the best I can be.”
However, as Lance Zierlein of NFL.com wrote, at least one AFC scout isn’t buying Thomas as a high pick.
“He’s damn good,” the scout said. “I don’t think he gets drafted as early as you do because he’s not big enough for inside and he’s not as long as you like on the outside. You have to figure out where you will play him, but he won’t stop. He’s going to be really productive.”
That scout isn’t alone in thinking Thomas at No. 2 might be ill-advised.
“I’m not saying Solomon Thomas was not a big-time pro prospect because he wasn’t a first-round pro prospect in his last game against North Carolina,” John Middlekauff of KNBR Radio said. “And the difference between football and basketball is you can have 5-on-5 pickup games in the offseason when you are going through the draft process. In football, that’s not the case. You don’t put the pads back on until once the season ends. These teams work you out in shorts and a T-shirt. I’m not trying to take anything away from him, I just think the buzz and everyone now mocking him at No. 2 overall seems a little extreme. Especially because I don’t view him as an outside defensive end.”
Whether you think that Thomas merits consideration at No. 2 or not, this much is clear – he isn’t making it out of the front half of the first round. For every scout who thinks Thomas doesn’t have the length or quick-twitch athleticism to play end in the 4-3, there are two who believe his strength and non-stop motor will more than compensate for those perceived deficiencies.
It’s true that Thomas doesn’t have Garrett’s otherworldly physical gifts. He also doesn’t have Derek Barnett‘s history of sack production in college. In fact, Thomas is more likely than not never going to be a 15-sack player. However, he does have a nose for the ball-carrier and the determination to do whatever it takes to bring said ball-carrier down. That stoutness in run-support could portend the sort of high-floor IDP production we’ve seen from the likes of Justin Smith and Calais Campbell.
Assuming that Thomas lands somewhere with a clear path to early playing time, he’ll likely be an upside reserve in redraft IDP leagues in 2017 – not the sort of defensive lineman you want in weekly lineups at the outset of the season, but one who may well work his way into it over time.
Thomas’ fantasy value gets a bump in dynasty formats of course, but until we see who lands where on April 27 it’s impossible to say if it’s him or Barnett who will (probably) slot in behind Garrett as the No. 2 rookie defensive lineman in 2017.