In the past two drafts, the 49ers have taken defensive linemen Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner with their top choices.
Could they pick another defensive lineman No. 1 in 2017?
It certainly appears possible, based on the assessments of several NFL draft analysts in recent days. The 49ers’ target may be Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas, whose stock has risen dramatically.
The 6-foot-3, 271-pound Thomas just completed his junior season for the Cardinal and set career highs in tackles (61) and sacks (8.5), up from his totals of 37 and 3.5 in his sophomore season. This past season he was selected the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the year, and he topped that off with a terrific bowl game against North Carolina in which he had seven tackles, including two for loss, and a sack.
He’s now projected to be a top pick in the first round, and Daniel Mano of the Bay Area News Group wrote this week that nine of 17 recent mock drafts have Thomas going to the 49ers with the No. 2 overall choice. Thomas is an outstanding pass rusher, and his addition to the front seven – in a mix with Armstead and Buckner – would give San Francisco a trio of young, talented players up front to build around defensively, especially with the 49ers expected to run a 4-3 base defense in 2017.
Wrote Rob Rang of CBS Sports, in his mock draft: “Sandwiched between massive defensive ends DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead and new defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, he could give the 49ers the dominant defensive line to compete in the NFC West.”
Thomas was a standout at the NFL Combine in February, showing great athleticism. Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee wrote that Thomas finished among the top five defensive linemen in five of the seven drills performed at the combine.
Lance Zierlein of NFL.com wrote in his scouting report of Thomas that he’s “an explosive defender who combines strength, quickness and a muscle-car motor to drive him around the field making play after play.” Others, however, are concerned that Thomas may be a "tweener," too small for defensive tackle and not long enough to be an edge rusher.
Yet Thomas has faith in his abilities and is eager to show what he can do in the NFL.
“I can rush anywhere,” he told Barrows. “I play every down. I’n great stopping the run, great rushing the quarterback. I’m very versatile. I have toughness. I try to get after every (offensive) 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.”