2011 49ers Grades: Donte Whitner

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 14: Donte Whitner #31 of the San Francisco 49ers forces an incomplete pass against Jimmy Graham #80 of the New Orleans Saints in the first quarter of the NFC Divisional playoff game at Candlestick Park on January 14, 2012 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

As we close in on the finish of this 2011 49ers Grades segment, we've got a couple big names remaining. We start today with strong safety Donte Whitner. The 49ers defensive backfield was an intriguing mix when you combined his skill set with that of Dashon Goldson. Whitner was the guy who handled more of the underneath, in the box action, while Goldson was in more of a center field role. It was not always a perfect grouping, but for the most part they did a great job together.

The 49ers almost didn't land Donte Whitner this past offseason. He was set to sign a two-year deal with the Cincinnati Bengals, when he rather abruptly switched gears and signed a three-year deal with the 49ers for $11.25 million. It's safe to say the 49ers are happy with Whitner's decision to change his mind.

Whitner had a strong season in which he was particularly forceful against the run. He is not a guy to whom the 49ers looked for a ton in pass protection, but he has the athleticism to potentially make more contributions there. But in the rush defense? He was an absolute force. He put together one of the top two or three defensive plays of the year for the 49ers when he brutally stopped Saints running back Pierre Thomas near the goal line. The Saints had driven deep into 49ers territory and Thomas had the ball at the 49ers two when Whitner welcomed him to Candlestick Park.

The 49ers will return both Goldson and Whitner in 2012. The secondary could be looking at a bit of a shake-up if Carlos Rogers walks, but otherwise there is plenty of talent returning. I'd love to see a bit more from Whitner in pass defense, but for the most part, it is hard to complain about what he brought to the table this past year. The 49ers hit a home run in free agency with most of their signings, so it is hard to say one is clearly better than another. However, this was definitely one of the better signings of the offseason.

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