Solomon Thomas rejoins Robert Saleh with New York Jets
According to Brian Costello of the New York Post, the New York Jets are signing free-agent defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, who played under Robert Saleh for four years while Saleh was the San Francisco 49ers’ defensive coordinator.
The Jets are signing DE Solomon Thomas, according to a source. Thomas was a 2017 first-round pick of the 49ers and played for Robert Saleh from 2017-20. He was with the Raiders last year.
— Brian Costello (@BrianCoz) March 28, 2022
ESPN’s Adam Schefter adds that Thomas will sign a one-year deal.
Jets are giving Solomon Thomas a one-year deal, per source. https://t.co/jOpnCylUmI
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 28, 2022
Thomas and Saleh both joined the 49ers in 2017. San Francisco selected Thomas with the third overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft.
The Stanford product was a regular contributor to San Francisco’s defensive line rotation but never fulfilled his lofty potential, collecting 6.0 sacks over four seasons. Thomas joined the Las Vegas Raiders for the 2021 season.
Let’s dig into Thomas’ player profile and figure out what the Jets are getting in the 26-year-old.
Solomon Thomas played a brand-new role in 2021
Thomas possesses a tweener frame at 6-foot-3 and 280 pounds. He’s just big enough to warrant snaps on the interior and just small enough to warrant snaps on the edge, although he’s not necessarily a picture-perfect fit for either role.
Throughout his four years with the 49ers, Thomas was deployed in a hybrid role that saw him rotate between the interior and the edge. For example, in the 2019 season (Thomas’ last healthy season with San Francisco), Thomas played 57.1% of his snaps on the interior and 42.9% on the edge.
The Raiders switched things up for Thomas in 2021. Las Vegas moved Thomas to the interior on a full-time basis, as he was asked to play just 2.3% of his snaps on the edge.
In his new role as a defensive tackle, Thomas experienced mixed results. He had a respectable season as a pass-rusher but struggled mightily in the run game.
As a pass-rusher, Thomas set new career-highs in sacks (3.5), quarterback hits (12), and pass deflections (2) while recording his first career strip-sack. Thomas collected 30 total pressures over 381 pass-rush snaps, giving him a pressure rate of 7.9% that ranked 50th out of 121 qualified interior defensive linemen (59th percentile).
Per Pro Football Focus, Thomas also had a pass-rush win rate of 11.1%, which placed 46th out of 121 qualified IDL (63rd percentile). So, across the board, his pass-rushing numbers were solid.
The flip side of Thomas’ pass-rushing performance was his play against the run, where his undersized frame for the defensive tackle position caused him to be a liability.
With 18 tackles and five missed tackles against the run, Thomas had a missed tackle rate of 21.7% in the run game, ranking 133rd out of 140 qualified IDL (5th percentile). His Pro Football Focus run-defense grade of 28.1 ranked second-worst among that group.
The Raiders were aware of Thomas’ deficiencies against the run, as they rarely placed him on the field in rushing situations. Only 30.9% of Thomas’ snaps came on a run play. That was the seventh-lowest rate among qualified IDL.
How did Solomon Thomas do in his hybrid role with the 49ers?
The 2021 season showed us what Thomas is capable of doing as a defensive tackle. He was a pass-rushing specialist who could provide decent output in the passing game but had to be kept off the field in rushing situations.
But what can he do in a hybrid role?
Thomas produced incredibly “meh” results during his 49ers career. His run-stuffing wasn’t nearly as bad as it was with the Raiders but his pass-rushing wasn’t nearly as good. Overall, he was generally below-average in both phases.
From 2017-20, Thomas had 70 total pressures on 1,036 pass-rush snaps, which is a pressure rate of 6.8%. For reference, the 2021 league average for interior defensive linemen was 7.3% and the league average for edge rushers was 10.2%, so a 6.8% pressure rate would be slightly below-average for an IDL and poor for an EDGE.
As a run defender, Thomas was far more effective when he got frequent chances to use his size to his advantage by playing on the edge in rushing situations. Thomas earned a composite PFF run-defense grade of 63.0 from 2017-20, which is slightly above average for both the EDGE and IDL positions.
Look for Solomon Thomas to provide depth and scheme familiarity in New York
Expectations for Solomon Thomas should not be very high. He’s been deployed in various roles over five NFL seasons and has yet to show high-end starter potential in any of them. Despite his status as a former top-three pick, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of untapped potential left inside of him.
However, Thomas has shown that he is capable of being a useful rotational piece in a 4-3 defensive front. He’s got experience playing under Robert Saleh and can handle a variety of different responsibilities at a competent level.
To get the most out of Thomas, New York would be wise to play him to his strengths.
As an edge defender, Thomas can defend the run well but will not do much in the passing game. As an interior defender, he is a good pass-rusher but will be bullied in the run game.
Accordingly, the Jets should try to use Thomas as an edge defender in rushing situations and as an interior defender in passing situations.
Look for Thomas to provide decent depth at multiple positions for the Jets’ defensive line.