As was widely expected, the San Francisco 49ers traded into the top 20 of the draft to nab a defensive player. The likely targets figured to be defensive linemen, safeties and tight ends. The 49ers decided to go with a safety they had their eye on, and made Eric Reid the choice. Harbaugh and Baalke noted that this was the player they wanted all along and, in Harbaugh's case, even before that. The 49ers head coach tried to recruit Reid out of high school to join him at Stanford, but Reid opted for Louisiana State instead.
What qualities do they see in Reid that made him so appealing?
Perhaps, they're the characteristics he shares with recently departed Dashon Goldson. Let's compare and contrast the 49ers' first round selection with the 2012 All-Pro free safety.
It starts with the physical characteristics these two players share. Take a look at the numbers below and you'll see how they parallel one another:
Weight: 205 lbs
40-yd dash: 4.57
Vertical Jump: 34.5"
20-yard shuttle: 4.52
40-yd dash: 4.53
Vertical Jump: 40.5"
20-yard shuttle: 4.22
Size- and speed-wise, these guys are almost clones of one another. Reid stands an inch shorter but is almost ten pounds heavier. Their 40-yard dash times are only separated by .04 of a second. The biggest discrepancies lie in their vertical jump distances and shuttle times.
Reid is one of the hardest hitters in this draft class, at least from a secondary standpoint. One quick look at the film and it's clear this kid can knock the taste out of opponents' mouths. He leads with his shoulder and can deliver punishing blows on opposing wideouts, much like Goldson.
He's also very good in run support. Reid's closing speed allows him to jet toward the line of scrimmage to make plays on running backs in the box. The same could be said for Goldson. Throughout his tenure with the red and gold, Goldson made some great plays rushing to the line and making hits on running backs, either in the backfield or before they could get to the second level.
When you read up on Reid's flaws in his draft profile, it sounds an awful lot like describing the early days of Dashon Goldson. Despite the great range and ability to be "an enforcer over the middle", the knocks on Reid are suspect tackling (going for the big hit instead of wrapping up), unrefined coverage skills (can let guys slip by him on missteps or jumped routes) and a lack of ideal recovery speed.
While Goldson was known to make receivers weak in the knees at the thought of crossing over the middle, he didn't improve upon his tackling and coverage skills until very recently.
Both players also have a penchant for getting flags on late hits, helmet-to-helmet contact and other infractions.
Goldson and Reid have the build and skills necessary to play at either safety position, despite the fact that both project more naturally as free safeties. This gives the 49ers some options, considering that Whitner's contract expires after this season.
The SEC (the conference in which LSU plays) is the preeminent conference in college football. It's the closest thing to the NFL stage, boasting the best teams and a large contingent of players that move on to the NFL. The Pac-10 that Goldson played in while at the University of Washington is nothing to sneeze at, but it certainly doesn't compare to the most dominant conference at the college level.
The numbers also favor Reid over Goldson. During his career at LSU, Reid compiled 199 tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss, six interceptions, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. Goldson, meanwhile, racked up 130 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, four interceptions (one of which he returned for a touchdown), zero forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. There's not a huge disparity between the two outputs but Reid's numbers are a step above, even if it's a small one.
Eric Reid appears to need less grooming than Goldson did, both on tape as well as in the fact that he was a top-20 selection while Goldson was a fourth round pick. With that said, it's expected that he can jump in right away as opposed to developing for a couple years as a backup like Goldson did.
Given the multitude of resemblances, the 49ers may have an easier time acclimating Reid to the NFL stage. They can utilize the blueprint they followed for Goldson in improving Reid's coverage/tackling skills and tendency to get overaggressive. The 18th overall pick looks poised to be a day-one starter at free safety, but the 49ers secured an insurance policy by signing Craig Dahl away from St. Louis.
The bottom line is that the 49ers would have loved to retain Goldson, but simply couldn't given the money he commanded and the team's need to allocate funds elsewhere. By only sacrificing a third round pick to move up, their hope is that they get an even better version (which would take some time, of course) of Goldson at a discounted rate.