The 49ers' defensive line was the backbone of one of the NFL's best defenses in 2019, as San Francisco finished second in total yards allowed and tied for first in yards per play.
DeForest Buckner was the unit's most productive member last season, but the 49ers traded him in a cost-cutting move to the Indianapolis Colts. Javon Kinlaw -- the man who San Francisco selected with that first-round pick in April's draft -- is seen by many as the player most likely to replace the void left by Buckner. But NFL Network analyst Charlie Casserly believes the 49ers might have an under-the-radar player who could end up being crucial to maintaining the defensive line's dominance in 2020.
"Another guy, Solomon Thomas; played a little better last year than people gave him credit for," Casserly said on NFL Network. "He's a sleeper to come through. But they're going to need more than one to replace Buckner."
Returning players who had a larger role than Thomas in 2019 like D.J. Jones and Dee Ford will be counted on, but Thomas is someone who could see a major uptick in playing time if he lives up to his potential.
The former No. 2 overall pick was the first draft selection for general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan in 2017, and the Stanford product never has brought the spark typically expected of a top-5 pick.
Thomas played in just 41 percent of the 49ers' defensive snaps last season, after being in for 60 percent or more in each of the previous two seasons.
Thomas has one more year on his rookie contract to earn another chance with the 49ers, but if he doesn't, we'll likely see Thomas playing elsewhere in 2021.
[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]
49ers' Solomon Thomas identified as 'sleeper' on D-line by NFL analyst originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area