3 team fits for edge defender prospect Solomon Thomas
The Stanford Cardinal have put a number of solid front-seven defenders in the NFL in recent years, and Solomon Thomas might be the best of the bunch. He finished the 2016 season with the highest overall grade (92.4) and run-defense grade (92.5) among all defensive interior players in the FBS. While his production rushing the passer tailed off toward the end of the season, through eight games he racked up nine sacks and 12 QB hits. Teams willing to utilize his ability to play both on the edge and inside will get the most out of his play, and will be featured among his best fits.
What he does best
- Elite run defender who uses strength to shed blockers easily.
- Can generate pass-rush from the edge or the interior of the defensive line.
- Wins as a pass-rusher with both power and speed.
- Greatly improved as a pass-rusher in 2016 and saw his pass-rush production nearly double.
- Has the quickness to attack one-gap and the ability to locate and shed to play two-gaps.
The Bears beefed up the edge last offseason by signing Pernell McPhee in free agency and drafting Leonard Floyd in the first round of the 2016 draft, but still lack a complementary interior pass-rush threat. Thomas can be just that, in addition to being able to play both inside and on the perimeter on run downs in rotation with Akiem Hicks and 2016 third-round pick Jonathan Bullard. Last season Hicks finished 44th among all interior defenders in pass-rush productivity, and the combination of Bullard, Mitch Unrein and Will Sutton collectively managed just 23 total pressures on 537 rushes.
The Bengals are a team in need of upgrades at defensive end and defensive tackle, and thus should covet Thomas’ versatility. Michael Johnson’s 41.5 pass-rush grade was the lowest in the NFL among edge players with at least 100 pass-rush reps, and 2014 third-round draft pick Will Clarke has contributed just 586 total snaps and 21 total QB pressures in three seasons in the Queen City. Cincinnati of course has Geno Atkins inside, but opposite him there is little current help, as second-year defensive tackle Andrew Billings (who missed all of 2016 with a torn meniscus) was not an impressive pass-rusher in college.
Should Thomas still be on the board as late as pick 13, he may find that his most natural home is in the desert. Long-time standout Calais Campbell took his 395 career pressures with him to Jacksonville this offseason, and what’s left of the line offers neither experience or NFL-level production. 2016 first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche will of course be asked to take a big step forward in 2017 after playing just 82 total snaps in his rookie season, but adding a top talent like Thomas, who can move throughout Arizona’s multiple fronts, could help the unit recover quickly from the loss of its star.