NFL draft profile: No. 3 — Stanford DL Solomon Thomas, terrific run stopper with great upside

Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas
6-foot-3, 273 pounds

Key stat: Stanford’s leading tackler — rare for a defensive lineman who spends most of his time on the interior — with 62 stops last season, with 15 of those coming behind the line of scrimmage.

Stanford’s Solomon Thomas is a dominant defender with upside, but his position must be identified. (AP)
Stanford’s Solomon Thomas is a dominant defender with upside, but his position must be identified. (AP)

The skinny: Born in Chicago but moved with his family to Australia for five years before returning to live in Texas during high school, where he became a top-25 national recruit. Committed to Stanford and redshirted as a freshman. Named honorable mention All-Pac-12 in 2015 when he made 10.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and a 34-yard touchdown off a fumble recovery. Thomas had a breakout game in the Rose Bowl win over Iowa that season with two tackles for loss and a sack and parlayed it into a big 2016 season. A rare sophomore captain on a talented football team, Thomas was named winner of the Morris Trophy for the Pac-12’s best defensive player in 2016, starting nine games at tackle and four more at end in the Cardinal’s 3-4 front. He added eight sacks, a safety a forced fumble and a fumble recovery for a 42-yard TD. Once more, he was dominant in the team’s bowl game, helping take down Mitchell Trubisky and North Carolina in the Sun Bowl with a big performance.

Thomas declared for the 2017 NFL draft following his redshirt sophomore season. He’ll turn 22 in December.

Best-suited destination: Thomas can fill a variety of roles in multiple fronts, so he has scheme diversity and mass appeal. Because of his frame, he should be able to add or subtract a little weight readily and become a base end, an “under” tackle in a one-gap front, a 5-technique in a 3-4 defense or even a stand-up rusher in the right system. Among the teams that could be most interesting in Thomas include the Tennessee Titans, Carolina Panthers, San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears, Los Angeles Chargers, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals, Washington Redskins and New Orleans Saints.

Upside: Exceptional strength-size-speed combination. Elite athlete for his frame. Moves around with ease — can fly off the snap, slide well laterally, track ballcarriers down from behind and shoot quickly upfield. Short-area quickness is outstanding, as seen in his 3-cone drill time of 6.95 seconds, which was better than some wide receivers. Country strong — put up 30 reps on the bench press at the NFL scouting combine. Good lower-body explosion (35-inch vertical jump) and terrific acceleration, as seen in 10-yard split (1.56 seconds) and strong 40-yard dash (4.69). Gap shooter who can erase outside zone plays from the backside with tremendous quickness and closing ability, as seen against UCLA:

Stanford’s Solomon Thomas destroys the UCLA guard for this tackle for loss. (Draftbreakdown.com)
Stanford’s Solomon Thomas destroys the UCLA guard for this tackle for loss. (Draftbreakdown.com)

Has a nice punch and can use his hand quickness to throw blockers aside. Has a frame that easily could support 15-20 more pounds of good weight. Piano player up and down the line — can handle almost any technique and also drop into space. Rushes best with power and urgency. Still finds ways to collapse pocket, pressure quarterbacks, change arm angles and hurry up throws. Effort plays, even non-sacks and tackles, are just fun to watch. Elite run defender for such a young player, and his pass-rush advancement from 2015 to 2016 suggests that he still has room to grow in that area.

Watch here on another play against UCLA as Thomas works against Kolton Miller, a possible first-round tackle in 2018 — Thomas uses a speed-bull rush on Miller with good hand work inside and just can’t quite get to Josh Rosen but forced the checkdown on third and long:

A good bull-speed rush against UCLA leads to a pressured checkdown throw. (Draftbreakdown.com)
A good bull-speed rush against UCLA leads to a pressured checkdown throw. (Draftbreakdown.com)

Rose up in big games and seemed to elevate his performance against talented quarterbacks. Got in DeShone Kizer’s head early and often in dominant performance vs. Notre Dame. Seemed to rattle Trubisky in both of their final college games as well. Enjoys the mental game with opponents and is regarded as football junkie who lives the sport. Hailed as team leader, vocal locker room presence (hence being named captain as sophomore) and emotional force. Hustle player who racked up production with second-effort plays.

Downside: Plays a big man’s game in an edge player’s body. What position is he? A smart defensive coordinator will have a plan to use Thomas’ skills, but it might require improvement as a pass rusher (if he sticks at end) or bulking up (if he moves primarily inside). Athletic quickness hasn’t yet fully translated into pure pass-rush explosion and quickness. Can look a bit wooden at times and stay glued on blocks if he can’t generate enough power off the snap. Sinewy frame that can restrict his suddenness.

Not a fan of double teams. Doesn’t appear to have a great plan for them and can get turned perpendicular to the line of scrimmage or run out of his gap. Doesn’t have the mass, arm length (33 inches) or hand size (9 3/8 inches) that you ideally would peg for a 4-3 defensive tackle or 3-4 defensive end in base formations. Hand fighting needs work. Burly, strong linemen can give him a bad ride. Pad level is often good but when it’s bad, he can get blown out of plays. Made a living dusting slow offensive guards and likely won’t be able to produce the same sack numbers without refinement.

Effort usually is very good, and even exceptional at times … however, there were a few snaps in that North Carolina game — and a handful of others — where Thomas appeared a bit checked out.

Scouting hot take: “Make sure you mention that this guy does take a play off now and then. I don’t see people saying it, but it’s there to see. Just turn on the tape. But I love his makeup and he’s a three-position player. He made me a little worried when I saw him straining so hard during the [combine] workouts, but he’s just that way. You can plug him and play him right away, but his best football will come in Year 3. Mark my words: Some [ill-informed] writer will say that he’s a bust [based on how high he’s drafted] after his first year or two, but I guarantee he’ll develop down the road. It took Michael Bennett until Year 4 to really get it, and look at him now.” — NFC defensive line coach

Player comp: Michael Bennett

Expected draft range: Top-10 pick

Previous profiles

Nos. 51-100: Here’s who just missed the cut
No. 50: Indiana OG-C Dan Feeney
No. 49: Iowa DB Desmond King
No. 48: Vanderbilt LB Zach Cunningham
No. 47: Wisconsin pass rusher T.J. Watt
No. 46. Alabama pass rusher Tim Williams
No. 45. Washington CB Sidney Jones
No. 44. Alabama LB Ryan Anderson
No. 43. Ohio State WR-RB Curtis Samuel
No. 42. Florida DT Caleb Brantley
No. 41. Connecticut DB Obi Melifonwu
No. 40. USC CB-KR Adoree’ Jackson
No. 39. Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes
No. 38. Michigan State DL Malik McDowell
No. 37: Ole Miss TE Evan Engram
No. 36: Florida LB Jarrad Davis
No. 35: Washington S Budda Baker
No. 34: Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon
No. 33: Alabama CB Marlon Humphrey
No. 32: Florida CB Quincy Wilson
No. 31: Tennessee RB Alvin Kamara
No. 30: Michigan DB-RS Jabrill Peppers
No. 29: Alabama OT Cam Robinson
No. 28: Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer
No. 27: LSU CB Tre’Davious White
No. 26: Missouri DE Charles Harris
No. 25: UCLA pass rusher Takkarist McKinley
No. 24: Michigan DE Taco Charlton
No. 23: Wisconsin OT Ryan Ramczyk
No. 22: Utah OT Garett Bolles
No. 21: Western Kentucky OG-C Forrest Lamp
No. 20: Florida State RB Dalvin Cook
No. 19: Miami (Fla.) TE David Njoku
No. 18: Tennessee DE Derek Barnett
No. 17: Clemson QB Deshaun Watson
No. 16: North Carolina QB Mitchell Trubisky
No. 15: Washington WR John Ross
No. 14: Clemson WR Mike Williams
No. 13: Western Michigan WR Corey Davis
No. 12: Temple LB Haason Reddick
No. 11: Ohio State CB Gareon Conley
No. 10: Alabama TE O.J. Howard
No. 9: Stanford RB-WR-RS Christian McCaffrey
No. 8: Alabama LB Reuben Foster
No. 7: Ohio State S Malik Hooker
No. 6: Alabama DL Jonathan Allen
No. 5: LSU S Jamal Adams
No. 4: Ohio State CB Marshon Lattimore

– – – – – – –

Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

What to Read Next