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49ers Safeties: Long Look Back, Brief Look Forward

Ah, the safety position: something that can be either really good or really ... below average in 2011 depending on a few key things. Free agency will be the big thing to look at for the 49ers going forward and not the NFL Draft - though addressing needs like cornerback and outside linebacker can be of big assistance to the safeties when it all comes down to it. Anyway, there's not much else to say in the introduction, let's get to it.

Dashon Goldson

Sacks Interceptions Tackles
G Sacks YdsL Int Yds IntTD Solo Ast Total
2010 - Dashon Goldson 16 1 8 1 39 0 59 17 76

Aside from being really annoying on Twitter, Dashon Goldson is pretty awesome. Sometimes. Other times, he's the cog that drives my infinite ire. Lot him in with all of the players that were supposed to follow up a promising 2009 outing with a stellar 2010, and also lot him in with all of those that sincerely disappointed in that regard. Whatever we saw in 2009, there were only flashes of it in 2010, and it was detrimental to the team.

These flashes, though - when they were present, boy were they present. Goldson is very fast on the football field with a good nose for the ball and solid coverage skills. I'm comfortable with him physically against any wide receiver in the league and against any running back in the league, but I am most certainly not comfortable with him mentally. He's a four year veteran that has at one time or another been labeled as "no potential," "limitless potential," "top five safety," and "a big disappointment."

But you can do an awful lot worse than Goldson, and one has to wonder how much better he'd look with an improved pass rush or an improved secondary to help him. I did notice several times where Goldson did have to make up for lapses from the strong safety position and had to cover guys that I could tell weren't his assignment. His season was a solid one for a starting safety, but he needs to get better.

After the jump, we look at the other safety options on the 49ers roster, the 2011 free agents for the position and of course, the 2011 NFL draft ...

Taylor Mays

Sacks Interceptions Tackles
G Sacks YdsL Int Yds IntTD Solo Ast Total
2010 - Taylor Mays 11 0 0 0 0 0 26 5 31

Mays could have easily been a top ten draft choice with just one or two better performances in certain passing scenarios. Instead, everybody questioned his ability and he fell all the way into the second round, where the 49ers took him with the 49th pick and he scorned me by not choosing the number 49 for his jersey. That aside, let's look at Mays in his rookie season.

He was given the starting job when it was apparent that Michael Lewis had been losing a step. The 49ers wanted to go with the younger, speedier guys, and in both cases of doing so (NaVorro Bowman over Takeo Spikes being the other one) it didn't seem to pay off. It's not that Taylor Mays was really bad out there, but he definitely didn't do much to keep his starting job, as evidenced by losing it to the guy below.

One thing that he actually did well early on was cover. I saw a lot there, a good bit of potential that needs to be tapped. For someone who was supposed to have no coverage skills at all, there was a lot of raw talent that can be used. I saw somebody writing him off on Niners Nation a couple days ago and I just about lost my mind. After a very brief period of time in his rookie season, he suddenly is not good? No, that's definitely not the case.

But the 49ers need to not make the mistake of putting him in too soon again.

Reggie Smith

Sacks Interceptions Tackles
G Sacks YdsL Int Yds IntTD Solo Ast Total
2010 - Reggie Smith 12 0 0 1 20 0 29 4 33

Reggie Smith started the season as uh .... well, he might have been a cornerback, or perhaps a free safety. Then Michael Lewis started talking all kinds of jive and went all "gobble gobble gobble" like the turkey he is, and Taylor Mays was given the starting job. When that fell through, Reggie Smith was the guy to get mixed in more, and eventually was given the starting job in week eleven when it was apparent that Mays was not ready.

Smith is a decent safety with a lot of room for improvement, but it's hard to say that somebody who is jumping around between positions is a solid option for the future. Still, he was drafted relatively high and 2010 was his only season of considerable starting time. Taking that into account, what do you say? I'd say he had a fairly good season when it all came down to it. He's very fast out there and he's good in coverage, enough to probably be a nickel corner if need be. He does have the tendency to get lost a little bit, but he closes in well.

It was a "lackluster" performance in the big scheme of things, but it was a good one when you consider the circumstances. 

C.J. Spillman

Sacks Interceptions Tackles
G Sacks YdsL Int Yds IntTD Solo Ast Total
2010 - C.J. Spillman 11 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Spillman is not an option for any kind of role on defense going forward, nor was he in 2010, but he became a solid contributor on special teams. In fact, he became what I'd call the best player on a struggling 49ers special teams unit. That's just about it.

Looking Ahead

Dashon Goldson is a free agent, and he's not going to be franchise tagged. That doesn't mean he won't be back though. I can't cover things in depth due to some time constraints while writing this, but I believe Goldson is still the best option for the 49ers at the free safety position. There are other options available, so go ahead and look at this list of free agent defensive backs and draw some conclusions of your own. Like I said though, Goldson's down year means he won't cost too much money, and it will leave the 49ers with money to spend elsewhere where they need it.

Taylor Mays needs to progress this offseason. I don't see the 49ers bringing in any kind of free agent strong safety and I don't see them drafting a guy they might want to fill the position in the future. In training camp, there will almost assuredly be a battle between Reggie Smith and Mays, and it's up in the air as to who the favorite would be at that point. There's a lot of natural talent there for Mays, but there's a lot of present dependability there for Smith. It should be interesting.

2011 Free Agency

2011 NFL Draft (SS) (FS)


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