While Solomon Thomas is determined to prove he is worthy of his lofty draft status of two years ago, he is under no pressure to do it alone.
The 49ers’ defensive line is stacked with five players who entered the league as recent first-round draft picks.
Only Dee Ford, chosen No. 23 overall by the Kansas City in 2014, is on his second NFL contract. The 49ers acquired him in a trade for a second-round pick in 2020 after the Chiefs designated him as their franchise player.
Ford, 28, has registered double-digit sacks in two of the past three seasons, including a career-best 13 last season. DeForest Buckner, the No. 7 overall pick of the 49ers in 2016, earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl after a career-high 12 sacks.
Thomas, Buckner, Arik Armstead, chosen No. 17 overall in 2015, and recent No. 2 overall pick Nick Bosa give the 49ers depth, as well as plenty of hope the defensive line can emerge as the clear strength of the team.
“Yeah, and we kind of love it,” Thomas said of the expectations for the season. “We’re excited for this year. We have some great players. Picked up a great player, a great kid, Nick Bosa. I love working with Nick so far. And Dee Ford has been a great leader. He’s a great player. He’s got one of the best first steps in football. It’s insane.”
Armstead had a strong season as a run defender and is looking to improve dramatically on his three sacks last season. Thomas admittedly struggled on the field in 2018 while trying to cope with the death of his sister, Ella, shortly after the conclusion of his rookie season.
The 49ers’ defensive line figures to consist of a rotation of those five players, along with Ronald Blair on nickel downs and nose tackle D.J. Jones in the base defense.
Ford and Bosa are strictly edge players, while Buckner is exclusively a defensive tackle. Armstead and Thomas are considered defensive end in base situations and inside pass-rushers on nickel downs.
“We’re excited,” Thomas said. “It’s going to be a fun year. We have great guys. Everyone in the room has a chance to contribute and be great and make this a great and fun year and a dominating year. That’s our goal, and that’s what we’re trying to do every day.”