When the Las Vegas Raiders signed Solomon Thomas, admittedly, I wasn’t a fan of the addition. Thomas’ tenure with the 49ers was riddled with injuries and disappointment, and the Raiders opted to bring him in and let a promising player in Maurice Hurst go.
Eight weeks into the season and I’ll be the first to eat my helping of crow and admit I was wrong.
Injuries have continued to hold Hurst back in San Francisco, while Thomas has flourished in Las Vegas and become a staple in the team’s defensive line rotation.
The 2017 No. 3 overall pick has stood out the most as a pass rusher for the Silver and Black. He already has 19 pressures on the season, which is four more than he had in the last two seasons combined on 196 fewer opportunities and ranks tied for 17th among defensive tackles. Also, his win rate – 13.4 percent – is tied for 17th-best and over three points higher than his current career-best.
Part of Thomas’ emergence is tied to how the Raiders are using him. In San Francisco, he played as an edge about 70.7 percent of his rookie season and while that figure cascaded down to 47.8 percent in 2019, it’s still dramatically different than his usage in Las Vegas. Now, he’s playing on the outside of the defensive line just 5.5 percent of the time.
The Stanford product has gone back to playing as an interior defensive lineman, which is the position he excelled at in college and where 94.5 percent of his 2021 snaps have come from. But beyond the slide inside, Thomas has shown some excellent pass rush skills on film that have led to the uptick in his production.
Nice effort rush and bend to make a 90-degree turn by Solomon Thomas to get a sack pic.twitter.com/0gtdLZW126— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) November 2, 2021
In this first clip, we see Thomas get an effort sack against Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Thomas’ get-off is initially what jumps off the page as he’s one of the first guys off the ball and immediately starts putting pressure on the guard. He also does a great job of working to get on an edge and while his initial hand swipe doesn’t work, he keeps hand fighting and is eventually able to clear the outside of the offensive lineman.
Now, Thomas does get out widened by the guard and out of his lane, but he shows some excellent bend and athleticism to dip his shoulder and turn the corner at nearly a 90-degree angle. He finishes the play off by swiping at Roethlisberger’s legs and forcing the Steelers to play from behind the sticks.
From struggling to line up to sacking Big Ben, another great example of Thomas' motor pic.twitter.com/t1DgheK7Tv— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) November 2, 2021
This next play is far from the prettiest one out there, but it ends up being another sack for the five-year pro.
Pre-snap, it’s obvious Johnathan Hankins and Thomas aren’t on the same page and it looks like they’re trying to communicate some sort of line game. They barely get in their stances and the stunt doesn’t work, so Thomas adjusts and starts to adlib.
He’s able to get rid of the center and attack the guard with his hands while eyeing the quarterback. Because the defensive lineman’s hands are inside the offensive lineman’s, that allows Thomas to easily get off the block and get a sack when Roethlisberger starts to climb the pocket.
To go from struggling to lineup to making a sack on the same play shows an excellent pass rush motor and ability to adapt in an adversarial situation by Thomas.
Violent rip move here from Solomon Thomas pic.twitter.com/0nlJUnPrK3— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) November 2, 2021
While this next rep doesn’t end in a sack like the other two, it’s Thomas’ best from a pure pass rush standpoint. He lines up as a one-technique and the offense slides the protection to the left – the defense’s right – so he does a great job of recognizing it, bringing his eyes to the guard and attacking the guard instead of the center.
Again, we’re going to see Thomas use some excellent hand placement to get his hands on the offensive lineman’s chest plate. From there, his strength and quickness are on display as he gets on an edge, gets extension and finishes with a violent rip move to win and get a quarterback hit.
I was surprised how good Thomas' UOH is and this clip sold me on it pic.twitter.com/0Ybx30KZMX— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) November 2, 2021
Here, we’re going to see another example of excellent use of hands from Thomas.
Off the snap, the guard works out to him and takes away his leverage advantage. However, Thomas recognizes this and gives the guard some head and shoulder fakes to get him to stop his feet and honor the inside move. That forces the offensive lineman to throw his punch and lunge, and the pass rusher’s impressively quick hand swipe and limber lower half allow him to win around the outside.
Just a dirty ice pick on the spin move by Thomas pic.twitter.com/JOZFAHjG0L— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) November 2, 2021
Against this play-action pass from the Miami Dolphins, we get another example of Thomas’ ability to adjust on the fly. By design, he gets a run look from the offensive line and does a good job fulfilling his run responsibilities. Then, the fun begins once he recognizes it’s a pass.
At that point, Thomas starts to work a spin move to the outside. The spin is effective because he does a picture-perfect job of using his outside elbow on what’s called an “ice pick” technique to knock the guard off balance. Finally, he has the athleticism to complete the 360-degree turn and get in on the party in the backfield.
That’s an example of the strength and athletic ability combination that made him a Top-5 pick.
Thomas combining his pass rush motor with his spin move pic.twitter.com/QgFnZmZqqH— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) November 2, 2021
This next clip is going to be a combination of the previous one and the couple above that showed off Thomas’ pass rush motor.
Miami slides the protection to the right – the defense’s left – and the defensive tackle gets a jump set from the guard to go along with a post block from the center, so it’s hard to get much of a rush going. But Thomas keeps fight and never stops his feet, which allows him to spin to the outside contain Jacoby Brissett once he recognizes Clelin Ferrell has crashed hard inside.
The former 49ers’ athleticism is again on display with a spin move that allows him to beat guard and flush Brissett out of the pocket. A lot of defensive tackles would just work to the outside and bring the blocker with them, which keeps the quarterback contained but would still give him a pocket to throw from. Thomas, however, is able to contain the quarterback while also turning this into a positive rush.
How about another beautiful spin move?
Thomas is lined up in a 4i-technique but with his inside hand down so it’s really more like a wide three-tech. That forces No. 77 to work wide in his initial pass set, setting up the inside spin move.
Post-snap, he works outside for his first two steps to get the guard to commit to the outside, and again, Thomas does an excellent job of using the ice pick with his upper body and his agility to clear the offensive lineman. Combine that with a nice fake stunt from Carl Nassib and it’s a sack party for the Silver and Black.
This next clip is a great example of what Thomas can do as a power rusher. There’s nothing too fancy about this play, he lines up in a zero-technique at nose tackle and is working a T/E stunt with Maxx Crosby.
Thomas gets right to the guard’s chest and what I love about this rep is he bend his knees after making contact to get more leverage and help drive that guard backward. The defensive lineman’s pads are under the offensive lineman’s, and the former keeps his feet pumping to put the latter on skates and force the quarterback out of the pocket.
You gotta love how Thomas just refuses to quit on his rushes pic.twitter.com/dpcXH8Lqcu— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) November 2, 2021
Another rep that isn’t sexy from Thomas but is a great example of his motor. He tries in the inside move initially but Dalton Risner does an excellent job of picking it up. So, Thomas starts to work to the outside but again, Risner is there.
Most pass rushers would try two moves and quit if neither worked. However, the Stanford product continues to fight and works back to the inside to get a hit on Teddy Bridgewater and prevent him from stepping into this throw. That leads to the ball being just short enough for Tre’von Moehrig to go up and get a pass break up.
He just doesn't quit, frustrating as hell for an offensive lineman pic.twitter.com/mYvbrCu9KB— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) November 2, 2021
Finally, we’ll end with the ultimate effort play by Thomas.
Pass rush-wise, this rep is actually terrible. He tries to use that hand swipe move we saw earlier but Risner is ready for it and the move is ineffective. Then he tries to spin back inside but the center, Lloyd Cushenberry, is there with the clean-up block to thwart the spin.
What the defensive lineman does well is maintaining his balance to stay upright after contact and find the ball/the quarterback scrambling. From that point, his motor and closing speed allows him to catch up to Bridgewater, and he has the presence of mind to punch the ball out to force a turnover and seal the win for the Raiders.