David Shaw was live on air with NFL Network when the San Francisco 49ers took Solomon Thomas with the third overall pick. Stanford's head football coach knew that his former defensive lineman would go early, but he was elated to learn that he'd remain in the Bay Area.
On Tuesday, Shaw joined 49ers.com to explain why Thomas was the right choice for San Francisco.
"Going purely off of film, this is an explosive interior pass-rusher, which can't be undersold," Shaw said over the phone. "We all think about rushing the passer off the edge, but if you've got a legitimate big-time interior rusher, quarterbacks have a hard time stepping up in the pocket. He will get the quarterback off of his spot and make him uncomfortable."
That's a fantastic scouting report that is sure to peak the interest of 49ers fans everywhere. But when you're drafting in the top five, the expectation is that you're getting a franchise cornerstone. Those blue-chip players don't come around often, and they aren't always easy to identify. So often, scouts and media experts alike split hairs when ranking top prospects.
Shaw identified an intangible quality that makes the pass-rusher even more of a can't-miss player.
"It's his mentality," the coach stated. "That's what separates two great athletes. His motor is always running. You mark down 'loafs.' This guy doesn't get 'loafs.' He goes full-speed, and when the ball declares itself, whether run or pass, he flips his hips and takes off. I can't tell you how many plays he made down the field that he probably shouldn't have made."
Thomas posted 8.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss in 2016 as a red-shirt sophomore. The tape was impressive, but he didn't receive national recognition until the Sun Bowl against North Carolina.
Most considered Thomas an impressive prospect, but projected him to be a member of the 2018 draft class. Their cursory review of the pass-rusher didn't lead them to believe he could be a top player in 2017.
That sentiment confused Shaw.
"I kept saying I think he's a first-rounder right now," he said. "All of our coaching staff is looking at him and saying he is a difference-maker. He's a first-rounder. I think a lot of people watched the bowl game because it was an exciting game. And the more you watched, the more you noticed that the best player on the field was Solomon Thomas."
It didn't hurt that Thomas spent all four quarters of the Sun Bowl harassing Mitchell Trubisky. So when analysts went to evaluate the highly-touted quarterback prospect, No. 90 in cardinal and white was who stood out most.
That led everyone to circle back and reevaluate Thomas' entire 2016 season through a different lens. Now he was being compared to this year's crop of NFL hopefuls. By Day 1 of the draft, Thomas was a near-consensus top five prospect.
"He checked all the boxes: tenacity, technique, explosion, speed, strength, the ability to affect the passer and to play against the run," Shaw said.
There will still be a transition period accompanied by the natural ups and downs that all rookies go through. Those growing pains can be even more pronounced when playing in the trenches. The level of strength and physicality in the NFL can often make it tough for rookies to produce on the defensive line.
That said, Thomas is well-equipped to hold his own in Year 1.
"You want to have a fastball. You want to have a strong suit. Solomon's is his combination of explosion and technique," Shaw said. "There will be an adjustment period, but he's coming into it with some great tools."
Shaw was quick to reiterate that Thomas is only 21 years old and played just two years of college football. That means this year's No. 3 overall pick is nowhere near his ceiling.
"This is an ascending player, which is exciting," Shaw said. "He has the ability to be an edge pass-rusher, and that's the next step in his progression. He will continue to develop.
"The best is yet to be seen of Solomon Thomas."