The 49ers signed Donte Whitner recently, and it piqued my interest as I have strong opinons on his talent level, as well as the constant referring to his 'tackle total" as ameans of justifying the signing. After the jump, I'll explain why i think tackles are not indicative of individual defensive performance and my own thoughts on the Donte Whitner signing
Donte Whitner started 16 games last season(the first time he has done so) and racked up 140 combined tackles according to NFL.COM. I have read by numerous front page writers as well as the average poster here that is an "excellent" signing and a "huge upgrade" at the safety position.
1st, I will get into my beef with the way NFL.com records statistics. I have recently uploaded a video of Derek Smith and the way NFL.com constantly gave him credit for "combined tackles" when he really didn't do anything.
In the video, we clearly see Derek Smith on all these plays either:
A) Getting dragged by an offensive player for many yards after the POC(point of contact) until one of his teammates bailed him out
B) Hardly even touching the player, and getting credit for a "combined tackle" when it was clearly someone else doing 95% of the work.
So we see in the video the flaws that are with NFL.com's way of recording tackles.
But let's forget that for a moment. Let's pretend that the recorded tackles are always legitimate. Just exactly how much can we judge a player with tackles?
If a player is on a bad defensive team( Whitner, derek Smith) there chances of racking up tackles is higher, because the defense is giving up a bunch of 1st downs, more time spent on the field, and more opportunities.
There's also the question on "what kind of tackles were they"?
Were they behind the LOS, or at the LOS? Was it a great play to stop a player of getting a first down within inches? Or were they a bunch of downfield tackles after the offense had already gained a 1st down?
For example, Derek Smith, was often referred to by 49er fans as a "solid player". Heck, the homer-ish beat writer Matt Maiocco constantly defended his play, using useless cliche's like "smart player, solid, racks aup a bunch of tackles". Smith had 8 seasons of 100+ tackles, yet, he was always horrible at stopping the player at the POC(point of contact), routinely got dragged for a good 5 yards, had a tendency to shoot up the wrong gap and completely take himself out of a play, and IMO, was for a few years the worst player on our defense. So exatly how valuable was Derek Smith when our defense was year after year terrible, and he racked up a bunc of meaningless tackles after 1st downs were gained? IMO, not very valuable.
Which brings me to Whitner. Everyone here is in awe of his gaudy tackle numbers from last season. 1) The Bills were ranked 24th in total defense last season. Which leads to my theory that Whitner racked up a bunch of tackles well downfield that didn't mean much in terms of stopping the offense.
2) He is not good in coverage. he is undersized, gets abused by TE's when they match up, and is very much limited when playing a deep zone. He is an okay blitzer, but overall, I think he is very average and not the player many 49er fans seem to think he is. The good news is that his contract is reasonable for his talent. # yrs for about 3M per is not bad at all, and not going to hurt us.
The question is, is he an upgrade?
It could be argued. He is a SS and Goldson is a FS, so first off, it's hard to compare. However, I do believe that Goldson at FS and Reggie Smith at SS is a better tandem than Reggie Smith/Whitner. Reggie played adequately in spurts last season at SS, and Goldson had a horrific year. However, Goldson's year needs some context. He was playing hurt with plantar fascia in his foot, which really limited his range.
Personally, i think Goldson, when healthy, is an above average player with some nice skills. he is not very good at wrapping up; however, his ball skills are excellent and he is adequate when playing a deep centerfield. Let it be noted, the few games where Goldson got torched(the charger game springs to mind), he was left covering a receiver that was about 3-4 inches taller than him, which is a mis-match in the first place. If ed reed got forced to cover Vincent Jackson down the sideline in a 1 on 1 jump ball situation, I doubt he would fare much better.
I think the proper thing to do was gve Goldson a similar contract to what Whitner got. I don't think Dashon was looking for huge money like everyone claimed...I think he realized he had a poor year and would have come back on a more reasonable deal. I am also guessing there, so i could be completely off. Perhaps he does think he's a super star and is worth 50 million, But I would highly doubt it.
To sum it up, I think Niner fans on here(as well as front page writers) are vastly overrating Donte Whitner's talent, and expectations for his play should be tempered.