The draft class at safety this year provides some intriguing options at the position, if the 49ers and Donte Whitner part ways. The relevance of this position being drafted early (round two) revolves around the status of Whitner. At the moment "Hitner" is a free agent, and is likely to get a good contract after a fine season.
For now, we are going to assume the 49ers will draft a replacement for the Pro Bowl safety.
Here are the top five safeties:
1. Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, 6'1" 208 pounds - Alabama - Draft Breakdown videos
2. Calvin Pryor, 6'2" 208 pounds - Louisville - Draft Breakdown videos
3. Deone Bucannon, 6'1" 215 pounds - Washington State - Draft Breakdown videos
4. Jimmie Ward, 5'11" 192 pounds - Northern Illinois - Draft Breakdown videos
5. Ahmad Dixon, 6'0" 205 pounds - Baylor - Draft Breakdown videos
Who could be on the 49ers radar?
Don't look for the 49ers to target the top two safeties on the board, Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor. I'd put my money on the Niners drafting either a cornerback or wide receiver in the range where Dix and Pryor will be drafted. The good news is there isn't a big drop in talent when No. 3-No. 5 are the top safeties left to draft.
When you watch film of Washington State's Deone Bucannon, you may not be as worried about Whitner leaving. He's the kind of player you watch video of and think "He looks like a Niner." Bucannon does a lot of things well and could be a starting safety right out of the gate in his rookie season. In run support, Bucannon can fly to the ball and provide a big hit while tackling fundamentally sound. When it comes to pass coverage, he's excellent in that facet as well, providing good zone and man coverage while displaying stellar ball hawk skills. When Bucannon does intercept a pass (five this season), he can become a game-changer, providing big returns to set his offense up with good field position. If the 49ers are to move on from Whitner, this is who I want them to draft. I suspect his stock will continue to rise after he had a really good Senior Bowl. Right now, he could be available at the end of round two, but the 49ers may have to move up some picks in the second round to get him. Bucannon may not have the same name recognition as Clinton-Dix, but he could be every bit as good of a pro.
Northern Illinois' safety Jimmie Ward isn't too shabby either, and his tape reminds me a bit of Donte Whitner. Ward isn't all that big of a safety at 5'11" 192 lbs, but what he lacks in stature he makes up with smarts and thunderous hits. Ward's film doesn't stand out as much compared to that of Bucannon's, but his film is solid and steady. Ward knows his assignment and doesn't make many mental errors in coverage, which has lead to him being in the right place at the right time a lot of the time. Ward should also be considered by the 49ers.
Lastly there is Ahmad Dixon, who is also a hard hitter that is dynamite in run coverage. Dixon is similar to Bucannon in frame and jaw-shattering tackling ability, but he has more weaknesses. At times Dixon will launch instead of wrapping up for a sure tackle, and he does have lapses in coverage at times. These areas he will have to improve on to be successful in the NFL.
It would be nice to re-sign Donte Whitner, but the 49ers may have a hard time finding the cap space to do so. Take a look at these prospects, because one of them could be playing at Levi's Stadium next season. What safety prospect is your favorite?