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Thomas' exit closes book on 49ers' forgettable 2017 draft originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
The 2017 draft was the first time John Lynch called the shots.
Lynch, hired as 49ers general manager to pair with coach Kyle Shanahan less than three months earlier, faced what figured to be a pivotal draft for the floundering franchise.
Obviously, the 49ers did a lot correctly as they took perhaps the worst roster in the NFL and ended up playing in a Super Bowl just three seasons later.
But that first draft turned out to be a disaster -- with one notable exception.
A guy by the name of George Kittle, an underutilized tight end from Iowa, singlehandedly made that draft somewhat palatable. After all, the 49ers landed their best and most-impactful player with the fifth-round selection of Kittle.
With Thomas’ departure, the book is closed on the forgettable upper half of the 49ers’ 2017 draft.
Thomas appeared in 48 games with 30 starts during his four seasons with the 49ers. He had six sacks during his time with the 49ers and never proved to be more than a versatile rotation player on the defensive line.
Of course, if the 49ers had to do it over, they would have taken a quarterback — Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson — just like every team in the top 10.
Safety Jamal Adams, Marshawn Lattimore, Marlon Humphrey, Tre’Davious White and T.J. Watt are the only other players chosen in the first round who have been selected to multiple Pro Bowls, so there were a lot more swing-and-misses than home runs from that draft class.
The Cleveland Brown selected defensive end Myles Garrett with the No. 1 overall pick that year. Garrett has two Pro Bowls on his résumé.
The 49ers were in line for the top pick for most of the unwatchable Chip Kelly-Trent Baalke season. But the team dropped to the No. 2 spot with a Week 16 upset victory over the Los Angeles Rams.
As detailed in his behind-the-scenes piece from the 49ers’ draft, Peter King revealed at the top three players on the 49ers’ draft board were Garrett, Thomas and, shockingly, troubled Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster.
Shanahan told King that Foster was “my favorite player in this draft.”
Foster was considered a huge character and health risk. The 49ers traded back from No. 2 to No. 3 overall and selected Thomas. Then, they were able to use a pick acquired in that trade with the Chicago Bears to move up into the back of the first round to select Foster.
During his short time with the 49ers, Foster's lack of discipline showed on the field and, particularly, off the field. After multiple arrests, the 49ers released him on Nov. 25, 2018, while he sat in a Tampa-area jail after an arrest for suspected domestic violence. (The charges were later dropped.)
Thomas, Foster, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, who signed this week with the Seattle Seahawks, and running back Joe Williams -- a fourth-round draft pick with a questionable history of his own -- no longer are with the 49ers.
Quarterback C.J. Beathard, selected in the third round, is an unrestricted free agent after being a third-stringer for most of his time with the club.
The 49ers’ draft started badly and got worse until Kittle rode to the rescue on Day 3 of the draft.
The only other player who still remains with the club among those first 10 draft picks is defensive tackle D.J. Jones, who signed a one-year contract on Wednesday. Injury-plagued slot receiver Trent Taylor is an unrestricted free agent.
In the months leading up to the draft, Garrett was seen as the consensus No. 1 overall pick. But there was talk in the days leading up to the Browns going on the clock that they could select a quarterback.
The night before the draft, Denver Broncos general manager John Elway told Lynch he had heard the Browns were going to take quarterback Mitchell Trubisky at No. 1 overall, King reported.
If that had occurred, things would have turned out a lot differently and, obviously, better for the 49ers.
The 49ers would have stayed at No. 2 to select Garrett, and they would not have had the draft capital in the trade-back of one spot with the Bears to select Foster.
Thomas’ time with the 49ers ended with a torn ACL in Week 2 of the 2020 season.
Thomas’ versatility might have been detrimental to his development. He moved around during his first couple seasons in the league and never seemed to gain any measure of comfort with his role.
His on-field issues as a rookie did not even compare to what he faced off the field. Tragically, he experienced the most difficult of circumstances after his rookie season when his older sister, Ella, died by suicide.
It is easy to second-guess the 49ers’ selection of Thomas now. But back in April of 2017, it was difficult to find any mock drafts that had the 49ers selecting anyone but Thomas. Maybe it was because Thomas was widely considered that good or it was known the 49ers wanted him.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. said, “Solomon is a great player potentially. You look at him and there’s not much not to like.”
Lance Zierlein of NFL.com compared Thomas to Justin Smith, writing, “Thomas has the potential to become the best defender from this draft class and a future All-Pro."
The NFL Network’s Peter Schrager said of Thomas, “The big boy who’ll work perfectly in the San Francisco defensive scheme has Stanford ties like the new general manager and is the perfect blend of competitor and leader. He can do it all.”
Mike Mayock, then a draft analyst with the NFL Network, had the 49ers selecting Jamal Adams at No. 2. His mock draft projected Thomas going No. 7 to the Chargers. He said, “They can play him outside on early downs and inside in sub-packages. His quickness is similar to Aaron Donald’s.”
Mayock, the Raiders general manager, now has Thomas on his team.
Thomas gets a much-needed fresh start in Las Vegas without the pressure he faced with the 49ers.