We've now covered tight end, running back, offensive line, cornerbacks and linebackers in our NFC West position rankings. Of those positions, the 49ers were on top of four of them. I had them at the bottom of the cornerback rankings. Today, we're going to take a look at the safeties and, wouldn't you know it, the 49ers aren't on top here. However, they might be a little higher than you might have guessed.
Let's jump right into those safety rankings.
This one isn't very close. Earl Thomas is absolutely one of the top safeties in the league, even if he struggled last season. Last season may have been Thomas' worst year in the league, as he struggled in coverage, earned a few penalties and even seemed to regress against the run. However, he's still the best safety in the division, relatively young, and there's no reason to suspect he won't bounce back next year.
Chancellor is a tackling machine. He actually replaced Dashon Goldson in the 2011 Pro Bowl, and had one of his best seasons to date last year. He was better than Thomas was, though I don't expect that will be true this coming season. He's a very solid strong safety and the pairing with Thomas is just top-notch. They're not as close to Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner's 1-2 punch at cornerback as Seahawks fans like to claim, but they're definitely the top safeties in the NFC West.
When I went into these rankings, I assumed the 49ers would be lower than No. 2. That's before I did a lot of reading up on the rest of the safeties in the NFC West. It's weird putting the 49ers here with a rookie like Eric Reid, but he is clearly going to be the starter, so it's less of a stretch. He's not going to be buried on the depth chart or anything.
Donte Whitner has been a great signing for the 49ers. That is to say, Whitner came in for relatively cheap and put up some great numbers. Of course, he's been here more than one year, and last season was his worst in San Francisco by far. He struggled in coverage, especially as the season went on. Replacing Whitner will need to come sooner rather than later, but he's probably got another good season in him.
Craig Dahl is a terrible, awful player. He does nothing well and his addition to the 49ers should be viewed as a subtraction. Darcel McBath will probably remain with the team, and C.J. Spillman is great on special teams. I have no opinion on Trenton Robinson.
I'm a firm believer in the belief that you can't draft "your guy" too high. We can speculate on whether guys like A.J. Jenkins were taken too high or not, but in the end, I believe if you're an NFL general manager and you have a guy you know you want, there's no such thing as too high a pick. In other words, you can believe someone went earlier than he needed to, but that's not the same thing.
Another NFL team probably wouldn't have taken T.J. McDonald in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft. But he was the guy the Rams wanted, so they took him. McDonald will likely compete for, and win the starting free safety job. But he won't play it like a traditional free safety; instead, he'll come up and do his best to hit everything as hard as he possibly can. Because that's how he plays.
That said, his ceiling is all over the place. I'm not sure how good he'll be. He's a total wildcard at this point. At the very least, he should step right into Quintin Mikell's role and play in the box and do some blitzing.
At strong safety the Rams have ... Darian Stewart, who played behind Craig Dahl last season. It's not all that bad, though, considering that when he did play, he was much better than Dahl. I'm not quite sure why the Rams felt like Stewart should be the second string but I do think he could surprise a lot of people next season.
OK, this position is weird for the Cardinals. Neither Bell nor Johnson are particularly good. They had some great safety play the last couple years, but not coming from either of those two guys. I do think Johnson has some solid upside if he gets to see the field more.
But then we get to Tyrann Mathieu. I have no idea what to expect from him. He's better as a cornerback, and I don't really get the Cardinals wanting to use him as a safety. Will he end up being great? Will he not fit the position? Will he smoke himself out of a job? I have absolutely no idea and for now, the Cardinals have to be ranked this low (by a good margin, too). Mathieu could end up being a difference-maker, though. We'll see.