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Los Angeles Chargers Draft: Is Solomon Thomas the Answer?

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Kyle Posey takes a closer look at Stanford’s Solomon Thomas.

The 102nd Rose Bowl Game - Iowa v Stanford Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

A popular player and top 10 pick among fans and bigger media members is Stanford’s redshirt sophomore, Solomon Thomas. The 6’3 273 pound-ish uber athlete is bound to test as a top 5 performer in the more events than not at the upcoming combine later this week. When it comes to judging a player strictly on flashes, Thomas is spectacular. His upside is obvious. This is just from two games.

You see winning with crazy quickness off the snap. You see him converting that speed off the ball to power. You see some natural strength. The ability to locate the ball and finish. Or sometimes just flat out-athlete the guy in front of him.

The tools are there.

The flashes are important because it tells you the kind of player Thomas can be. It’s the other 45-50 plays where he’s getting washed out of his gap, pancaked on his back, is out of control, or looks like he has no idea what he’s doing, that is getting ignored for whatever reason. I watched Notre Dame, Colorado, Washington State, UCLA, & Washington to get a feel for Thomas. Against the Fighting Irish, that was by far his best game. That was the only game where I felt like he put a complete “I’m a 1st round player” type game together. Colorado was close, but the 3 others not so much.

The tools aren’t very sharp.

Finding a fit

In Stanford’s defense, Thomas plays defensive end in their 3-4 primarily but will play up and down the line of scrimmage. He’s lined up as a 1 technique, right over the shoulder of the defense, or will just play out wide as a defensive end on passing downs. The lone reason I thought Chargers should take who they did in the 1st round a year ago is because he had the technique and strength to hold up inside against bigger bodies and double teams. Thomas? Not so much.

You’re already at a disadvantage being at worst 25 pounds lighter than both guys trying to block you. But the minute you turn your pads, you’re toast. That was all too common for Thomas when playing inside.

In the NFL, if a QB sees him inside, you better believe they’re going to check to a run where you can get a down-block on Thomas and move him out of his gap. He’s more of a liability than an asset because of how he handles being run at.

You never want to see a guys numbers if you’re on the sideline. That’s a no-no.

I wanted to see him against Washington State because I thought against that spread type of offense he’d be able to have more space to operate and his skills would shine. I was wrong. This was easily his worst game of the 5. His lack of hand usage showed. He couldn’t counter. His lone sack had to be over 4 seconds and the QB ran into him and his QB hit was a 27-yard touchdown so there’s no way that can be counted as a positive. They even stood him up and let him get a running start.

He’s the guy creeping towards the line. He gets a running start and is just stoned at the point of attack. Doesn’t use any sort of pass rush move, has no length, just runs full speed into the guard expecting something to happen. That’s kind of where we are at this time with him as a pass rusher inside if there isn’t an initial win.

“Okay fine, just put him on the edge”

Per PFF, Thomas only played 67 total snaps out wide this year. So that’s give-or-take 5 a game. This is what makes the projection tough because there were so few snaps here. On one hand, you continue to see the flashes that you’d expect from a top tier athlete.

He doesn’t win off the edge here but how he avoids the right tackle is what I’d assume his peak rushes from there would look like. Just avoiding the tackle on the fly, staying tight and closing in a hurry.

The 2nd play of the 3rd quarter against UCLA is why you’ll see Thomas compared to all-pro players like JJ Watt.

He fires off the snap, gets his hands inside, rips through to the inside and explodes for a sack. That was an “oh sh*t” play. They don’t even have to be sacks, but from the edge in the limited reps that I saw there was a lot of reps like the gif where he was standing up. Just running full speed into the guy with no plan or counter. A lot of this going on:

These are the reps you can tell he has no idea what he’s doing out there. He’s too good of an athlete to be rushing “full-man.” High schoolers are taught to “pick a side” and win from there.

What to expect

Thomas’s upside is palpable. It’s clear as day. It makes it easier because his effort is outstanding. He was outweighed by 30-40 pounds inside and still played his butt off. I love that about him and if he does succeed at the next level, that’ll be the reason. That’s why his best fit will be the weak-side defensive end. He’s very good at plays away from him, when he doesn’t have to maintain his gap responsibility, can either slant and cross the face of the offensive lineman or just basically chase down the play from behind.

His defensive line coach will have his work cut out for him and there will be more bumps along the way as he learns to stay square on runs at him, get that half man leverage, and consistently learn pass rush moves. The skills are obvious, however. As I mentioned, the flashes are a top 5 in the class.

Google “boom or bust”, there’s a picture of Thomas right there. He could land in the perfect role with the perfect defensive line and the perfect coach, and flourish. Then again, some team might put him on the strong-side because it fits their needs instead of his skills and because of that he might never fully develop. He’s still a baby. He just turned 21 in December. But bad habits are tough to break. Thomas has 1st round effort and athleticism. You can see that on plays away. I don’t think he’s a first rounder overall, though. That’s strictly talking how he is as a football player. Will he go there? Of course. He plays a premium position. I’d be leery of him in the top 10, though. For now, the risk outweighs the reward.