Decent to strong safety play has been a staple of the San Francisco 49ers ever since they got rid of ... Mark Roman. They have done well at the position in free agency over the years, signing veterans like Donte Whitner and Antoine Bethea. And they have drafted at least decently, with Eric Reid highlighting that group.
Jimmy Ward was drafted as a safety as well but he’s played his best football at cornerback. Jaquiski Tartt also seems like a quality pickup, and last season the safety play was fairly solid.
Bethea led the team in total tackles, and Reid wasn’t too far behind him. Tartt was also up there, and if we’re counting Ward, he was generally very good in coverage from the cornerback position. The only other safety to see the field was Marcus Ball, but he had four tackles and was not a factor on the field in 2016.
One of the first moves the 49ers did was release Bethea. It was a smart move, even if Bethea was a great signing overall. He was effective in pass coverage and much better against the run than anybody gave him credit for. He definitely hit a wall last year though, and it was time to move on.
The only safety the team brought in during free agency was Don Jones, formerly of the Houston Texans. Jones is a great player, and I’m excited about his signing, but he’s primarily a special teams player and is not going to be a factor on the defensive side of the ball.
With Reid having occasional injury concerns, Tartt seemingly facing a make-or-break season to determine his value as a starter and Ward potentially shifting back to the safety position, there is no shortage of bodies. The 49ers don’t need to add another veteran safety, but they could be in the market for a younger guy.
But where do they go for one? There are plausible scenarios where they feel like moving on from Reid or Tartt or even Ward in the near future, and that could necessitate bringing in a high-round rookie sooner rather than later.
I tend to think they will go in a different direction. But below, we’re going to look at some of the safeties in the NFL Draft, from a few high-round guys to a few late-round guys. This is no a definitive list, so if you have someone you especially like, talk ‘em up in the comments.
Mailk Hooker, Ohio State: A hernia and a torn labrum mean he’ll likely slide on draft day, but he’s still possibly the top safety in the nation and should go in the first round. He’s a complete player who can do anything in coverage and is solid everywhere else.
Jamal Adams, LSU: Adams is a prototypical strong safety with range and speed. He can cover any tight end and he is the best run-stopping safety in this class. He will likely go in the top half of the first round.
Jabrill Peppers, Michigan: The most divisive player who could to in the first round, Peppers is extremely athletic and hard-hitting, but has some issues in coverage. He’s one of those players frequently talked about as a potential linebacker/safety hybrid. I think he’d best fit at safety with a coach who knows how to cover up his deficiencies.
Obi Melifonwu, Connecticut: He’s one of those guys who rocketed up draft boards for being an athletic freak and workout warrior. He’s fast. He’s big. He hits hard. He’s impressive. But he’ll probably be drafted too early, like in the back-end of the first round.
Montae Nicholson, Michigan State: Despite entering the draft early, Nicholson is a very complete player who already looks NFL-ready. He’s a sure tackler who rarely makes mistakes and if he’s around in the fourth round, he might be one of the safest picks in the draft.
Lorenzo Jerome, St. Francis: One of the most productive college players, Jerome is just solid everywhere. His coverage skills are up there with the best in this class, and he’s possibly the best man-to-man safety in this class. He could go as early as the third round, but could even be there in the fifth.
Nate Gerry, Nebraska: A solid strong safety prospect who takes good angles and is great against the run without being a liability in coverage. He’ll be around in the fifth round.
Jordan Sterns, Oklahoma State: A tackling machine who improved each season in coverage, he’s a project with a low floor but one of the highest ceilings in the draft class.