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49ers roster, 90-in-90 breakdowns: Antoine Bethea

Breaking down the 90 players on the 49ers offseason roster in 90 posts (over 90 or so days). Today we focus on strong safety Antoine Bethea.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Each year, we run a series of post called "90-in-90" here at Niners Nation. The idea is that we'll take a look at every single player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few different ways. This is to help give everyone a basic understanding of a roster. Of course, this roster will change, and some days we'll have more than one so it's not strictly one per day but Fooch is a crazy person who manages this blog with no rhyme or reason and it's worked so far. Who am I to argue?

Originally, I'd planned to write about another player for today's 90-in-90 breakdown, but after reading a bit about the NFL Top 100, I just had to get a post together about San Francisco 49ers safety Antoine Bethea. Obviously, we don't want to lend any sort of real credibility or get thoroughly upset over the NFL Top 100 list -- it's never been a particularly good list, it's more of a popularity and a "name" contest, and there are routinely players left off who should be on it and players who shouldn't be on it making it.

But the fact that no 49ers players made the list definitely made me raise an eyebrow. The NFL's list doesn't have any real rules (and if there are rules, they're a moving target) but sure, if you want to say NaVorro Bowman doesn't qualify because of his injury, that's fine. I'll concede Bowman if I have to. I also think Eric Reid, Aldon Smith and Joe Staley deserve some consideration.

Bethea, though ... Bethea doesn't just deserve consideration. Bethea is one of the top safeties in the NFL, and he showed that every single game last season. Well, he may have showed that more in some games than others, but I only had Bethea having a poor performance in a single game last season. That game was the game against the Denver Broncos, a team which is quarterbacked by a robot incapable of feeling pressure or fear of defenses.

While I liked Bethea as a replacement for Dante Whitner, I didn't expect him to be quite as good as he's been against the run. I also didn't expect him to be quite as fast and physical as he has been. Bethea was advertised as a guy who could improve on Whitner's liabilities in pass coverage but who would ultimately bring a less physical presence to the secondary. But Bethea has been just as fast, just as physical and he's been an upgrade against both the run and the pass.

I don't know how much longer Bethea plans to play or how long he'll remain with the 49ers, but a healthy Reid and Bethea make for one of the NFL's top safety pairings and I'd love to see anyone challenge that statement. An NFL Top 100 Players list that doesn't include Bethea is simply wrong, and there's nothing else to say about that. I don't think Bethea is "the" best player on the 49ers or the most-talented, but he's definitely one that comes with no caveats at this stage and if the NFL wanted to nitpick every other selection on this list, I don't see an argument against Bethea.

Why he might improve:

Bethea seems to be the kind of player who rises to the occasion, and with so many things changing on the defensive side of the ball, I could definitely see him being asked to do more and being able to deliver on that. While the 49ers are installing a new defense, I doubt it differs much from the previous one as far as what the safeties are asked to do, and that means Bethea could certainly get better from one year to the next.  Mostly, I think Bethea will be able to handle whatever is asked of him, and if that means more is asked of him, then he'll deliver more.

Why he might regress:

Or maybe I'm completely wrong and stupid. It wouldn't be the first time. Maybe the massive turnover on this roster is enough to make the 49ers an unfamiliar beast once again, and things don't click quite as well for Bethea as they did previously. Maybe he's asked to do more and he can't rise to that occasion, or maybe his years in the NFL are catching up with him. Jaquiski Tartt is an intriguing talent -- maybe he finds his way onto the field in certain situations. I've been wrong before.

Odds of making the roster:

I will not, however, be wrong about this. Bethea is 100 percent on the roster going forward and the only thing that's going to get in the way of that are ... more retirements? Also, aliens.