For Stanford defensive end, three-technique, whatever you want to call him, Solomon Thomas, he wasn’t originally supposed to shoot up draft boards this high. Not many had him in the conversation of a top-five pick last fall or as a game-wrecker all see now.
When you’re an athletic freak who posts 14 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks your junior season while moving all over Stanford’s defensive front, your prospects and future change. When you’re compared to a three-time Defensive Player of the Year as the college version of the Texans’ J.J. Watt, then eyes really open.
In the end, when you’re the Chicago Bears who might be seeking to bolster and complete their defensive front with another star piece next to the budding, Leonard Floyd, you keep tabs on Thomas. It’s the due process necessary as Chicago will have a whole set of options with their third pick.
To be fair, Thomas doesn’t have a set position in the NFL. For the “tweener”, it might not matter. Whatever team he does end up playing for, and it will more than likely be someone in the top-five with the 49ers, Bears, or Jaguars: they can all kick him on the interior on passing downs and use him on the outside. He offers that versatility. Cut to Chicago defensive coordinator Vic Fangio salivating at the thought of the possible uses for the 21-year-old.
Though, Thomas understands the concerns of his potential as he glossed about in March’s Scouting Combine. He’s going to have to find a niche in the NFL while being scheme versatile. To his credit, he cares nothing for those in-between labels being assigned to him. He knows what’s he capable and wants to prove himself.
“I don’t take that as a bad thing,” said Thomas of where scouts wonder he'll play. “I can play any system and I can play any position on the D-line.”
Indeed, that might be the best consideration for Thomas’s NFL hopes. That you can use him everywhere. Should he fall to the Bears at third overall, the 6-foot-3, 273 pounder will be tough to pass up. He ran roughshod over the Pac-12 and was a First-Team defender in the conference in 2016. It’s difficult not to envision him doing at the professional level with refinement.
In a mock to San Francisco, both of ESPN’s primary draftniks in Mel Kiper and Todd McShay waxed poetically about what Thomas brings to the table. He’s so good with plenty of upside, the Bears might not be able to consider him at No. 3 overall.
“There were several games where he was a dominant player,” said Kiper when asked to describe Thomas and his game-breaking ability. “He’s a great kid and a phenomenal talent.”
Meanwhile, McShay hasn’t relented in Thomas’s potential.
“What he can do in terms of disruption and the versatility to play multiple spots, those are a few of the reasons why Thomas is on the verge of being a top-five pick.”
Not being locked into a position looks like it’s becoming more of a plus than a downside to what Thomas does in the NFL. Aspects he’ll have to fix are garnering some more strength to work against bigger linemen and succeed despite less than ideal arm length. He knows he can put all of these concerns to bed by ultimately showing out when the time comes during official off-season programs wherever he’s drafted.
“Just prove to them because I didn’t rush a lot from the edge in college, but proving I can do that," Thomas said of answering his questions. "Prove to them that I’m effective enough to do that.”
Thomas’s NFL comparison outside of being mentioned in the same sentence as Watt, is former 49ers defensive end, Justin Smith. That’s great company. The parallels for Fangio and Thomas no doubt stick out with his past All-Pro and matching him together with Floyd as Chicago’s version of San Francisco’s past pass rush dynamo, Aldon Smith.
While the Bears have had no private visits yet publicized with the underclassman in Thomas, Fangio was the only representative for Chicago back on Stanford’s Pro Day on March 23rd. Whether he sees the same Smith comparison in Thomas is a different story but his appearance there speaks volumes. Receiving a close-up look of the edge player, the coordinator checked out his potential new toy with the prospect of his addition to the Bears defense, and that puts the guy in play at third overall.
The million dollar question here is where he’s picked. Where does Thomas slide in at the end of April and will the Bears even have the chance to pick him? It’s difficult to envision Chicago trading up to the second or first slot given the amount of draft capital it would take. So they’ll have to play the cards as they lie while firmly entrenched at No. 3 overall
A tenuous prospect for some, but necessary in a rebuild. Should Thomas be available with the third pick, it might be cause for some dancing in the Bears draft room at Halas Hall.
Either way, someone, somewhere will be satisfied with their new pass rushing piece in Thomas.
“I try to get after every lineman and put the fear of God in them and make a play. I’m just trying to get to the quarterback every play and be destructive and wreak havoc.”
Bears position outlook: Edge
Bears’ need: Moderately high
Current depth chart: Floyd, Pernell McPhee, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, Roy Robertson-Harris, Jonathan Bullard
The situation: Considering McPhee’s less than adequate health, Houston’s shaky ground with the organization as a possible future release, Willie Young’s age, and Floyd’s youth as a raw player, the Bears may invest in an outside linebacker or five-technique in the upcoming draft. Their roster seems deep here but has a lot of questions.
As for Robertson-Harris, no one knows where he’ll play. The 6-foot-7, now 270 pounder looks like a physical freak, but it’s too early to tell where his positional fit is. Figure he gets time both as an end and a try out at outside linebacker. The 23-year-old has two years left on a three-year contract, so the Bears have all the time in the world to experiment with his raw ability.
Best available: Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
Despite reports that the Browns are wavering on selecting Garrett with the No. 1 overall pick, there’s an incredibly small chance he isn’t a Brown when all said and done. Many have called him a generational talent and you could expect plenty of Pro Bowl and potential All-Pro appearances in his future. Other notables include Tennessee’s Derek Barnett, Michigan’s Taco Charlton, and UCLA’s Takkarist McKinley, who could all be first-round picks.
Something to keep an eye on:
“He’s going to train year-round now. So I’m really curious to see him when he gets back, when we can see him again, which is not too far off now,” said Bears head coach John Fox about Floyd’s development in the Chicago defense.
How Floyd looks more apt for the rigors of the NFL come the start of next week’s off-season workouts on April 18th will be a huge part of his developmental track.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is an editor for Windy City Gridiron. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.