The San Francisco 49ers 2017 rookie class has had a strong first season to date. They could be getting more from some of them, but seven of them have started at least a handful of games over the course of this season.
Reuben Foster could go down as the “best” player of this class, but the best value pick has to be free safety Adrian Colbert. He started the season on special teams, but injuries and his own strong play have moved him up the depth chart, and now he is the team’s starting free safety.
General manager John Lynch was on KNBR Thursday afternoon, and he offered some insight into how the 49ers ended up with Colbert. Lynch said that Adam Peters, his Vice President of Player Personnel, approached him about Colbert. According to Lynch, Peters told him, “Hey I really like this kid. He’s a fifth year transfer to Miami, had been at Texas. He moved from safety to corner. Let’s sit down and watch his film, I think he’s really got great value.”
Peters said that he saw Colbert as a potential special teams standout, who could also offer some depth help at cornerback and safety. The 49ers had their starters more or less figured out at the four base defensive back positions, but they needed to figure out depth. Special teams alone can land a roster spot, but having some versatility is huge for a rookie.
“In camp, we kinda moved him all around, and he really showed right away, he’s gonna be a special player on special teams. We didn’t think we’d get much out of him on defense, but we didn’t think we needed it. But that’s the deal about this league as well, when you have an opportunity, and Jimmie Ward went down, and he got an opportunity to go in there, and man, he’s made the most of it.”
Lynch praised Colbert for taking advantage of his opportunity, and also for his toughness in returning quickly from thumb surgery.
All of these things put him in position to compete for a significant role in 2018. The team will get Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt back. Eric Reid is a free agent, so his status remains unclear for the time being. Depth is necessary at the safety position, and this year showed that more than any other time.
If Reid does not return next year, the 49ers have some options. They could start Ward and Tartt or Ward and Colbert, with the one not out there getting extensive work in nickel and dime situations. Some have suggested moving Ward back to cornerback and going with Colbert and Tartt at the safety positions. I really have no idea what the 49ers have in mind at this point, but at the very least they will have depth to provide flexibility.