Nineteen games into his professional career, and Solomon Thomas has hardly had the impact that one would expect from a third overall pick. After a quiet 2017, Thomas’s 2018 has been even stranger, with the defensive lineman playing just 58 percent of the defense’s snaps thus far, while recording eight tackles and no sacks.
Like many 49ers fans, former Pro Bowl safety Donte Whitner has been disappointed in what he’s seen from Thomas, but doesn’t believe the player is to blame. Instead, Whitner pointed at defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s 4-3 scheme as a bad fit for the former Stanford standout.
“I think that’s all b.s,” Whitner said of the criticism of Thomas. “I think he was a high draft pick and I’m a little disappointed in him, but I’m not disappointed in him individually, because I think he was put into the wrong situation.
“I believe that when you watch him come out of Stanford, and you watch him on the edge and run down quick screens and make plays on the football and tackle in the open field, he’s a outside 3-4 linebacker that can rush the quarterback and drop some in coverage. He’s not a 4-3 defensive tackle, he’s not a 4-3 defensive end. He’s a guy that needs to be able to stand up, see what’s going on and pursue the football. Go back and watch his Stanford film, he reminds me of Ahmad Brooks. Ahmad Brooks are pretty much identical in size, weight, and everything.”
Brooks played with Whitner on the 49ers from 2011-2013. Brooks was a two-time All-Pro (2012, 2013) in San Francisco while playing for then defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and his 3-4 scheme.
“I don’t see (Thomas) as a good fit for this scheme. You’ve got two defensive tackles and two traditional defensive ends. He’s none of them. He is an outside linebacker, a rush linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Sometimes a rush outside linebacker is a little bigger than everybody. Ahmad Brooks was a little bigger than everybody, but he put a lot of pressure on, had a lot of quarterback hurries, and he added to our pass rush. I think if he goes to a 3-4 defense and plays outside rush ‘backer, you’ll see a totally different player.”
Listen to the full interview below. To hear Whitner on Thomas, start from 13:10.