It’s a familiar story: a player is highly touted out of college and in high demand, looking to make the next step, until a devastating injury changes the course of their path. After his junior year at Virginia Tech, Antone Exum Jr. was a player who was projected to go in the first or second round after he had a stand out season his junior year. Exum played safety in his first two seasons in college and played well but it was the he switched over to play cornerback and recorded five interceptions that people really started to take notice.
Then everything changed. In the spring of 2013 he tore his ACL and lateral meniscus in a pick up basketball game. In 2014 he sat out the first seven weeks as he continued to rehab from surgery. In his third game back he sprained his ankle and his season, again, was over.
“Exum is a well-built individual, and showed good fluidity in pass coverage and also an ability to track the ball well. Exum was a highly regarded player two years ago, but suffered a knee injury playing basketball in January of 2013. Exum came back to play in the 2013 season, but only played in three games and did not play at the same level as the previous season.” -- Gil Brandt
Exum was drafted in the 6th round, 182 overall pick, in the 2014 draft by the Vikings. He played in 26 games for Minnesota before going on IR in December of 2015 from injuries to his shoulder and ribs. In 2016 he suffered a knee injury in game preseason game and the Vikings placed him on IR for the remainder of the season. In May of 2017 during Vikings OTAs a teammate fell into Exum’s leg and he again suffered a knee injury. He was cut by the team in September and remained a free agent until the 49ers signed him in November.
In June the team signed Exum to a one year contract in June, 2018 and then subsequently cut him on September first and signed him again on September third as the team set it’s 53 man roster. With the health of the 49ers secondary in question, namely Jaquiski Tartt (shoulder) and Adrian Colbert (hip), Exum has found himself in a starting role on the defense.
Exum started off the game with a bang, surprising Philip Rivers and the crowd at Stub Hub Center in the first drive of the game coming up with a pick six on a pass intended for Keenan Allen. He continued to impress, ending the day with three solo tackles and three pass breakups in addition to his interception. He remained humble after the loss and spoke about the defense’s preparation throughout the week:
“We were locked in this week. Some of the mistakes we made last week we were trying not to make this week communication wise and tackling wise and things like that. We made some strides this game, didn’t come back 100% but we made strides and I’m proud of the guys for fighting.”
The defense is still having difficulty missing tackles in games but at least they did seem to improve in the first half of the game. While Colbert was healthy enough to dress in Los Angeles, he only went into the game on special teams as he is not completely healthy and did not get enough practice reps throughout the week according to Kyle Shanahan. Tartt is expected to return to practice this week in a limited capacity but until the two are healthy, Exum will have his chance to show he is capable enough to hold down a spot on the roster.
“I tried to step in and do the best job I can. Tartt got hurt, great player that he is, I did not take his position or anything. I just stepped in and am just trying to play the best that I can to help the team win. [We] fell short today.”