• John Bulmer

Deep Dive: Getting to Know Ambry Thomas and What He Brings to the 49ers

Image Credit: Detroit Free Press

OK, so it’s confession time: Ambry Thomas wasn’t really on my radar and I was quite surprised when his name got called. Back in the good old days before the trade up to No. 3, I was quite interested in cornerbacks. The Niners clearly have a need there with one -year deals aplenty in the secondary and when they were picking at No. 12, it seemed like the sweet spot for a quality cornerback. However, my research at that stage was limited to the likes of Patrick Surtain II, Jaycee Horn and Caleb Farley.

When the Niners traded up, the need at cornerback didn’t go away, but the market shifted. Then I started looking at who might be available at No. 43, names such as Greg Newsome II, Tyson Campbell, Eric Stokes and Asante Samuel Jr. were in the frame. Beyond that, there were a few popular names that popped up in my mock drafts in the fourth round such as Benjamin St. Juste and Paulson Adebo. Ambry Thomas kind of got lost in the mix as he was always taken in the third-round range where the 49ers weren’t picking.

Who Is Ambry Thomas?

Thomas was a four-star recruit out of high school who had scholarship offers from a number of top programs including Notre Dame, Ohio State, Florida and Auburn. Thomas visited Michigan, Penn State and Arizona before deciding to stay close to home at Michigan. He’s a former wide receiver who put up good numbers playing both offense and defense at Martin Luther King High School in Detroit.

In three years at Michigan, Thomas saw 634 snaps playing outside cornerback (555 of these came in 2019) and 56 in the slot (43 in 2019). He also saw some limited action at safety, the majority of that in the box. He allowed a completion percentage of 53.2 percent and graded at 74.2 playing man coverage and 77.6 in zone.

After his breakout year in 2019, Thomas opted out in 2020 due to the pandemic,which prevented him from adding to his somewhat limited numbers and stunted his draft stock.

Height, weight, speed?

Thomas is 6’0” tall and 191 pounds, similar in stature to the 49ers’ current No. 1 cornerback Jason Verrett (5’10”, 188lbs). That’s not where the comparison ends either as their combine numbers are not dissimilar. Thomas ran a 4.37 40-yard dash (Verrett ran 4.38), and recorded a vertical jump of 38 inches (Verrett was 39). Thomas also benefits from a longer arm length of 32.35 inches, which ranks him in the 80th percentile. These numbers point to a degree of explosive athletic ability which probably helped to overcome his lack of film and make him worth a shot.

Plusses and Minuses?

Image Credit: 49ers

His athletic ability is obviously a big plus and his pro day performance on March 25 really boosted his profile. He has the requisite speed to be able to cope outside and has flexible hips to adjust quickly to receivers. He has good ball skills, owing to his time as a receiver in high school and this really shows through when he has a shot to intercept the ball. He has been praised by the coaching staff at Michigan for his competitive spirit and the focus he has shown and he also has good experience on special teams, see this 99-yard kick return against Notre Dame for further evidence. He figures to have a shot at making an instant impact in this regard and has a chance to carve out a role as kick or punt returner (a role which the 49ers have been looking to upgrade for quite some time).

On the other hand, he is lacking in experience at the college level and really only has one full season of consistent play (2019) to show for his time at Michigan. As a result, he is still somewhat raw from a technical perspective and relies on his athleticism to make up the difference. In spite of his toughness, he can occasionally be pushed around by bigger, more physical receivers and needs to continue to develop his play strength although time spent in a professional conditioning program should be able to help in this regard.

A Good Pick?

Ambry Thomas reported having multiple interactions with the 49ers in the lead-up to the draft, speaking to secondary coaching staff on several occasions. Speaking to reporters, Thomas said about free agent Richard Sherman, "It would be awesome to learn from him because I've heard he's really smart and that's how I play my game. I look for the tricks within the formations and stuff like that. I try to read it like he does. He's a very smart football player. That's where I idolize my thinking from because he's very smart on the field. I want to go there so I would love to learn from him." He sounds like he has a great attitude to the game and is desperate to succeed.

Apparently, 49ers assistant general manager Adam Peters had a big part to play in this pick and was really keen on the player. In the past, Peters has been thought to be pivotal in the selections of George Kittle, Fred Warner and Deebo Samuel so his stamp of approval should give further confidence to the pick. Thomas appears to have the physical skills teams covet in the modern NFL and projects as a solid starter with good upside and serious special-teams potential. If you look at his highlights, you can see how physical he plays and how clean his tackling is; wrapping up his man quickly and effectively.

This pick is the first step to the 49ers future proofing in the secondary and provides the team with a solid understudy for Verrett and Moseley in the meantime. His weaknesses are all coachable and he also seems to be a tough and durable competitor. He was diagnosed with the digestive disease colitis in June 2019, which required a hospital stay of one month; yet, despite this, losing 30 pounds and missing most of camp, he didn’t miss a single game. This gamer attitude and competitive spirit seems like just what the doctor ordered for a recently injury-blighted Niners team and I for one can’t wait to see what Ambry Thomas can bring to the party.

It seems appropriate to let the man himself have the last word here:

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