Whatever happened to Brandon Thomas?
Last season was supposed to be his opportunity. With the departure of Mike Iupati in free agency and the switch of guard Alex Boone from the right side to the left, there was a job opening for Thomas, a former Clemson standout.
Yet during a season in which the 49ers struggled all season at right guard, Thomas, a third-round pick of San Francisco in 2014, failed to play a snap.
Thomas, who excelled at Clemson playing both guard and tackle, was drafted by the 49ers despite suffering a pre-draft knee injury. He was projected as a high-round talent, but the 49ers were able to select him in a lower round and stockpile him for the future.
They were bullish on his talent and potential.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney told a reporter the 49ers had made “an absolute steal” by grabbing Thomas in the third round.
And, in April of last year, general manager Trent Baalke was excited by the progress Thomas had made in his year of rehabilitation and his chances for making a big contribution in 2015.
“He looks very, very good at this point,” Baalke told reporters in an April news conference. “He’s come off the knee injury very well. He’s strong and he’s moving extremely well. We feel real good about him.”
Yet Thomas disappeared during training camp, his chances for starting evaporating as Jordan Devey, Ian Silberman and Andrew Tiller surged past him on the depth chart and into playing time.
David Fucillo, who writes about the 49ers for SB Nation, cited reports from 49ers practices during the 2015 season that Thomas “hasn’t looked too promising” and that “He gets bull rushed way too easily.” Fucillo surmised that Thomas might still not be at full strength following the knee surgery and rehabilitation, had lost his confidence or perhaps had faulty technique.
But, as he noted, the 49ers have Thomas under contract this year and next. So, he’ll likely get an opportunity for a fresh start under a new head coach and coaching staff.
Head coach Chip Kelly hired Pat Flaherty as offensive line coach, and perhaps Flaherty can get more out of Thomas. After all, the entire 49ers offensive line seemingly performed below par in 2015, and Flaherty – the longtime offensive line coach under Tom Coughlin for the New York Giants – has a successful track record.
Fucillo suggested that perhaps Flaherty can help Thomas and Marcus Martin, another high draft pick who flopped in 2015, achieve their potential.
“Or,” he wrote, “maybe they just end up wasted draft picks.”
Niners observers will likely get their first clues about each during April, when the 49ers can begin offseason workout programs.