By Greg Gabriel–
(CBS) One of the most interesting defensive linemen in the upcoming NFL Draft is Stanford end Solomon Thomas. Some have wondered whether he could be in play for the Bears at No. 3 overall.
Thomas is entering his draft as a third-year sophomore. He redshirted as a freshman and has been a starter the last two seasons, over which he was highly productive with a combined 101 total tackles and 11.5 sacks, including this past year. Thomas gained a lot of acclaim in the when he dominated against North Carolina in the Sun BOwl. Thomas is a really good player, but he doesn’t play every game like he played that one.
Thomas isn’t the biggest lineman at 6-foot-3 and at 273 pounds. He ran a 4.69 in the 40-yard dash. He has good length with 33-inch arms and is explosive. His agility drills were also good, posting a 6.95 in the three-cone drill and a 4.28 in the 20-yard shuttle. He has excellent strength both in the weight room and on the field.
What I really like about Thomas’ play is his motor. He’s the type to go all out of every play and is tough, physical and competitive. The 21-year-old Thomas has strong, quick hands and good hand use for such a young player. His instincts are excellent, and he finds the ball and makes plays. He holds the point of attack and make plays at the line of scrimmage. With his quick first step, he can get penetration and be disruptive.
As a pass rusher, Thomas shows excellent initial quickness, stays low and has the flexibility to get under his opponent to gain leverage. He shows speed off the edge and can bull rush or use moves to beat offensive linemen. Thomas wins with both speed and power and can close really well.
His size is his main weakness. He played in the 260s this past season and was up to 273 at the NFL Combine. He plays like a tweener in that while we see his strength and explosion on tape, we don’t see that timed speed he displayed at the combine. At the NFL level, I see him as a 4-3 defensive end.
As for his potential fit in the Bears’ scheme, I don’t envision him being able to play the 5-technique in their base defense. He’s too small, and I don’t see him having the ability to get to 290 pounds and keep his current athleticism.
Thomas does have the athleticism to play on his feet as an outside linebacker in the Bears’ scheme. While he hasn’t played in coverage, he showed at the combine that pass drops won’t be a problem. Still, because he has no experience in coverage, it will be new to him, and there will be a period of adjustment. If the Bears drafted him as an outside linebacker, he would be rushing the passer and not dropping into coverage on most passing downs.
Could the Bears select at No. 3? It’s possible, but based on his traits, I don’t see it happened. I just don’t think he can play the 5-technique and have success in the NFL. That’s not meant to take anything away from what he can be — I just don’t think he’s the best fit for Chicago. Put him in the type of scheme that Lovie Smith used to utilize, and he could be a perennial Pro Bowler.
Greg Gabriel is a former NFL talent evaluator who is an on-air contributor for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @greggabe.