The San Francisco 49ers have a burden of riches on defense, but that could lead to the release of a young and talented player.
The Niners have created a blueprint for success with their defense, and it seems like younger players are stepping up each year to contribute. The rise of corner Deommodore Lenoir and safety Talonoa Hufanga come to mind.
Now, 24-year-old corner Ambry Thomas is being labeled by Bleacher Report’s David Kenyon as a potential cut casualty due to regressing down the depth chart. Thomas was once the promising youngster in 2021, but a decline in snaps and production in 2022 is a red flag.
“A third-round selection in 2021, Ambry Thomas has managed 36 tackles in 27 games with the Niners,” Kenyon writes. “The issue? He shifted from a five-game starter as a rookie to someone who played 41 defensive snaps last season. Thomas will only be 24 years old, but San Francisco may move on.”
Struggling to get on the field is never a good sign, but the 49ers have the kind of roster that is looking to go deep in the playoffs, meaning that each 53-man spot has to be used to its maximum capability. Thomas playing a few defensive snaps a game is likely not good enough.
Thomas Shines as a Rookie
In 2021, Thomas went from an untested rookie to a player that was being trusted with the majority of snaps in playoff games. The former Michigan Wolverine was a year removed from his college career but was thrust into the spotlight late in that season.
Injuries caused issues in the 49ers’ secondary, requiring the rookie to take on a larger role. Including the team’s three playoff games, Thomas started 7 of San Francisco’s last 8 games according to Pro Football Reference.
There was plenty to be impressed by: the now 24-year-old totaled 6 passes defended over that stretch, consistently making plays on the ball and in coverage. He pulled down an interception in the regular season finale against the Los Angeles Rams, and totaled a whopping 10 solo tackles in the Niners’ NFC Championship loss to LA in the playoffs.
The exact issue in 2022 is unclear, but Thomas just never could crack the starting lineup after Lenoir’s rise and the addition of Charvarius Ward. Now, he could find himself on the outs.
New 49ers CB Praised by Exec
Another issue for Thomas is how high the 49ers are on one of their newest secondary members, Darrell Luter Jr. The South Alabama product joined San Francisco as a fifth-round draft pack in the 2023 NFL draft.
In an interview with The Athletic’s Matt Barrows, 49ers assistant general manager Adam Peters explained that the front office and defensive coordinator Steve Wilks believe Luter will be ready to contribute early.
“There’s not going to be a lot of us trying to bring him along. He’s ready to be a pro right now,” Peters said. “[Wilks] liked Luter a lot. At that point in the draft, there were so many corners [available]. Everybody kind of likes something different. But this was a guy who fit what he was looking for in terms of the athletic profile, the size, the physicality. He ran fast [4.46-second 40] and he played even faster.”
In three seasons with South Alabama, Luter totaled five interceptions and registered 18 passes defender per Sports Reference.