49ers' Solomon Thomas identified as 'sleeper' on D-line by NFL analyst

49ers' Solomon Thomas identified as 'sleeper' on D-line by NFL analyst

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.

[RELATED: How Nick Bosa's D-line knowledge impressed 49ers legend]

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]

Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson show interest in signing Antonio Brown

Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson show interest in signing Antonio Brown

Around and around we go.

Almost any other wide receiver who burned as many bridges as Antonio Brown has over the last two years would never draw interest from another NFL team ever again. But due to his tantalizing talent and prolific production, he continues to get the benefit of the doubt.

He doesn't deserve it, but it's understandable. Forget receivers, when Brown is on the field, there are few offensive players more frightening for defensive coordinators. Of course, he also has proven himself to be a nightmare for his own coaches. Thus is the risk/reward factor he presents.

Despite his risk far outweighing the reward as of late, interest in Brown doesn't appear to be waning. 

Back in May, it was reported that Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson "would love" to add Brown to his receiving corps. A little more than a month later, the two were connecting on routes on a practice field.

Yes, that is a Raiders helmet that Brown is wearing. How'd his time in Oakland go, again? But I digress...

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Wilson doesn't appear to be the only star quarterback interested in adding Brown to his roster. After former NFL receiver Chad Johnson took to Twitter to express his preference for Brown to join the Texans, Houston QB Deshaun Watson didn't exactly pour cold water on the idea.

The Texans were on the wrong end of one of the more one-sided trades in recent memory this offseason when they questionably sent standout receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals. Houston did acquire Brandin Cooks from the Los Angeles Rams, but perhaps Watson believes his receiving corps is missing an ingredient.

[RELATED: 49ers don't need Brown to be favorites, but Seahawks might]

If Brown is signed -- which is a big if -- it's unlikely he would be able to play much at all this coming season, regardless of which team signed him. A trio of Personal Conduct Policy investigations must be concluded before he can sign with a team, and even if all that is settled, it is widely expected that he would be facing a lengthy suspension upon rejoining the league.

Do you trust Brown to behave through that entire process? At this point, it's difficult to understand why anyone would. But clearly, some players still feel the risk is worth the reward.

Why Warren Moon believes 49ers are favorites in competitive NFC West

Why Warren Moon believes 49ers are favorites in competitive NFC West

The 49ers ran through the NFC playoffs, held a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIV and arguably have improved this offseason. So, they've got to be the favorites in their own division, right?

It wouldn't exactly be going out on a limb to take that stance, as San Francisco currently is the betting favorite to emerge not just from the NFC West, but the conference as a whole. There's a reason for that, and Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon doesn't disagree.

"You'd have to go with San Francisco right now," Moon said Thursday on 95.7 The Game's "Joe, Lo and Dibs" show when asked which team is the favorite in the NFC West. "I mean, they're the defending NFC champs. They bring back pretty much everybody from that football team. 

"They've lost a couple of receivers, but I still think they have a lot of good talent on their team. Their strength is going to be in their running game. I think their offensive line just got strengthened by signing (Trent Williams). So, they're going to be the team to beat, but this is going to be one of the more competitive divisions in the NFL.

"You've got Seattle, who's going to be right there. ... And then you always have the Rams, who you just don't know how good they're going to be. And then Arizona is going to be much more improved. So this is going to be a very, very competitive division, as it usually is."

[RELATED: Report: 49ers' Mostert requested pay raise this offseason]

The 49ers might be the deserved favorites in the division, but Moon is correct. The NFC West was tough enough last year, when San Francisco split the season series with the Seahawks and went down to the wire in both meetings with the Cardinals. As good as the 49ers are, claiming a second straight division title will be no easy task.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]