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San Francisco 49ers positional review: Safeties

The San Francisco 49ers have had some solid safety play over the past two seasons, but the position is a question mark going forward.

Kevin C. Cox

Going into last season, I think most of us here were pretty satisfied with the safety position, but ultimately a little nervous about it going into future seasons. And that is definitely for good reason, given the position we're in now.

Dashon Goldson is set to be a free agent again if the San Francisco 49ers can't get him signed to a deal by March 4, they might be inclined to use the franchise tag on him. Ideally though, Goldson will get the first real multi-year deal of his career since his rookie contract.

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Donte Whitner has been good, but he's likely nearing the point of diminishing returns and the 49ers don't have anybody young on the roster who might be considered the future. They're in a precarious position, but first, we'll take a look at the safeties from this past season and assess how they performed before a brief look ahead.

Dashon Goldson

Sacks Interceptions Tackles
G Sacks YdsL Int Yds IntTD Solo Ast Total
2012 - Dashon Goldson 16 0 0 3 21 0 53 14 67

Goldson made his second consecutive Pro Bowl this past season, despite not having eye-popping stats. Goldson had just three interceptions, and made fewer big hits than he's been known for in the past.

That being said, he also looked quite a bit better in coverage. He stayed with his targets and the biggest times he got burned were on mix-ups with other players on the field and not necessarily him being unable to hand with any given wide receiver.

I firmly believe his presence of mind and coverage ability as a whole skyrocketed last season. He was penalized less as well, which is just perfect. I don't know if he was one of the top safeties in the league but he was an asset to the team in 2012.

Donte Whitner

Sacks Interceptions Tackles
G Sacks YdsL Int Yds IntTD Solo Ast Total
2012 - Donte Whitner 16 0 0 1 42 0 61 21 82

I legitimately could not be happier with what the 49ers have been able to get out of Whitner since bringing him in as a free agent. There wasn't much excitement about him, but he has put together two very strong seasons, all things considered.

He's been very good in run support, much better than the 49ers have had in recent years. Some snaps, I describe Whitner as having been fired from a shotgun. The guy hits hard ... very hard. Unfortunately, he had a down year when it came to his coverage abilities in 2012.

While the previous year was actually a good year in coverage, Whitner started to break down big time down the stretch. It all culminated in the Super Bowl, where Whitner was flat-out bad. He was picked on over and over and showed that he just can't cover that well, and his 2011 season was the exception rather than the rule.

C.J. Spillman

Sacks Interceptions Tackles
G Sacks YdsL Int Yds IntTD Solo Ast Total
2012 - C.J. Spillman 10 0 0 0 0 0 3 0 3

Spillman was given a contract extension and to me, that meant he was going to see some significant time as a backup. He did that in 2012, though not as much as I'd figured. He doesn't have eye-popping stats but I think Spillman is a great player to have around.

He's a leader on special teams and he's earned his spot in San Francisco for that. However, he's still relatively unproven in coverage and in 2012, the time he saw on defense was primarily in goal line packages where, admittedly, he's incredibly useful. Still not really a candidate to start in the future.

Darcel McBath

Sacks Interceptions Tackles
G Sacks YdsL Int Yds IntTD Solo Ast Total
2012 - Darcel McBath 5 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 2

McBath mostly saw action on special teams and will probably be competing for a roster spot next season. It's hard to really gauge his value but I don't really see him as a true backup at the safety position. There's not much to say about him here.

Looking Forward

While I was very pleased with what Whitner brought to the table on his contract numbers and seemingly out of nowhere, I think he's hit a wall and the 49ers need to move on. I wouldn't be opposed to him being a backup in 2013, but they clearly need an upgrade at the position.

A young upgrade, and I don't believe Michael Thomas and Trenton Robinson are the answer. I legitimately feel that they need to draft a safety in the first round or trade up into the beginning of the second round because this is the best safety draft in years.

It's also likely that Goldson will be back. He absolutely deserves a long-term contract for the first time in his career, but I'm not sure he deserves the top safety money. I feel like the 49ers will get it done, though.