Niners' Draft of Brandon Thomas in 2014 may pay off in 2015

Former Clemson standout, injured before last year's draft, could win job at left guard to replace Iupati

At Clemson, Brandon Thomas was a two-time All-Atlantic Coast Conference pick at left tackle. He was athletic, quick and strong. In fact, in matchups against future No. 1 overall pick Jadaveon Clowney -- South Carolina’s superb defensive end -- it was Thomas who came out the winner.

Thomas was projected as a possible first-round pick in 2014.

But the 6-foot-3, 317-pound Thomas blew out his knee during a pre-draft workout, tearing his ACL, and his stock plummeted. Many teams stayed away from him.

The 49ers, however, took a chance, selecting him in the third round of the 2014 draft, the 100th player taken, and projected him as an NFL guard.

Now, after sitting out all of his rookie season, Thomas will come into this offseason’s workouts and summer camp with a good chance to win the job at left guard, replacing Mike Iupati who left in free agency. Thomas will compete with former USC standout Marcus Martin (who filled in as Daniel Kilgore’s replacement at center as a rookie last season) and veteran Erik Pears, who signed with the 49ers as a free agent after several seasons in Buffalo.

While Iupati was one of the NFL’s best run-blocking guards, he had deficiencies as a pass blocker. Now some 49ers observers believe the 49ers offensive line with Thomas -- should he win the job -- might actually be more efficient in 2015 in protecting quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Writing for Bleacher Report recently, Joe Levitt is one who thinks Thomas or Martin might develop into good players at  left guard. His analysis: “ESPN Insider detailed in its draft evaluation that Thomas has “adequate lateral agility in pass protection” with a “power, length and … physical style” that will mesh well with the 49ers offensive line. Those same scouts noted that Martin is “light on his feet and has a jarring punch in pass protection,” adding that “he should develop into a quality starter sooner than later.”

Thomas was understandably disappointed in 2014 that he didn’t get a chance to play. But he said the season wasn’t wasted. He learned the 49ers system and was diligent in his rehab work.

“There’s no need to rush anything,” he told reporters last season. “I just need to get myself healthy, 110 percent, so I can come back.”

After selecting Thomas in the 2014 draft, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke talked about the choice with Dan Pompei of the Sports on Earth website, telling him that Thomas’ injury made him a risk, but a risk with possible long-term, excellent benefits.

“The long-term picture is just as important as the short term,” Baalke said. “And sometimes you have to assume a little more risk for the upside of the reward.”

Soon, the 49ers will find out if Thomas will pay off for them in 2015.

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