The San Francisco 49ers are officially into the offseason following a 2018 season that did not meet expectations. The team entered with hopes of contending for a playoff appearance, but stumbled to a 4-12 record after losing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to a torn ACL in Week 3.
Expectations will climb again in 2019, but before we get into that, it’s time to take a look back at the season that was for the current roster. There will be turnover in the coming months, but let’s start the offseason with a stock report on the 49ers roster. We’ll go through each position group and offer stock up or stock down for each player, and then stock up or stock down for the position group as a whole. Today we move on to the safeties.
Jaquiski Tartt: Stock down
Tartt struggled with a shoulder injury in 2018, missing six games before landing on injured reserve for the final two weeks of the season. The 49ers’ starting safety also missed seven games in 2017 after a broken forearm landed him on injured reserve after Week 9. In eight starts, Tartt totaled 42 tackles, four tackles for loss, two pass breakups and an interception in 2018. His 66.6 grade from Pro Football Focus ranked 56th among safeties. Tartt signed a two-year, $13 million extension during the offseason with the 49ers. He’s likely penciled in as a starter at either safety position.
Jimmie Ward: Stock way down
Ward likely won’t be with the 49ers in 2019. The former first-round pick was placed on injured reserve for the fourth time in five seasons after suffering a broken forearm during the 49ers’ Week 12 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Ward’s fifth-year option guaranteed him $8.5 million last season, making him the team’s highest paid defensive player. He played a mix of cornerback and free safety with mixed results, only totaling 24 tackles and one forced fumble. Ward heads toward free agency having played 51 of a possible 80 games since being drafted in 2014.
Adrian Colbert: Stock way down
Colbert looked like a diamond in the rough at the close of 2017 and earned a started role heading into this past season. Unfortunately, Colbert regressed significantly in 2018 and was routinely victimized by blown assignments and missed tackles. He also struggled with various injuries before a Week 7 high ankle sprain landed him on injured reserve for the remainder of the season. Colbert registered 21 tackles and one pass breakup in six starts. His 31.7 grade from PFF ranked him 91st among safeties in 2018. Colbert should be seen as a backup as the 49ers look to upgrade at free safety this offseason.
Marcell Harris: Stock way up
Harris missed most of training camp and the preseason with a hamstring injury. He began the season on injured reserve and didn’t take the field until Week 9 against the Oakland Raiders. The 49ers’ sixth-round pick started the last five games of the season and racked up 20 tackles and four tackles for loss. Harris took advantage of an injury-riddled secondary and made a strong bid for a starting spot in 2019.
Antone Exum Jr.: Stock slightly up
Injuries to Colbert, Tartt and Ward forced Exum into the spotlight on the 49ers’ defense. He played in 15 games this season and started seven, totaling 41 tackles, two tackles for loss, one forced fumble and an impressive seven pass breakups. Against the Los Angeles Chargers, Exum kicked off the game with a pick-six of quarterback Phillip Rivers. Exum is headed for free agency in the offseason but played well enough to earn consideration as a backup for the 49ers in 2019.
Overall: Stock way down
The 49ers’ safeties, considered a strength in the offseason, is now among the roster’s weakest position groups. The defense fielded eight different safety combinations throughout the season. Colbert disappointed while finishing the season on injured reserve along with Tartt and Ward. Harris showed promise late in the season and will compete for a starting role in the offseason. D.J. Reed played some safety, but his future appears to be at nickel back, for the time being.
The 49ers are without a starting-caliber free safety, which is among the defense’s most critical positions. Whether through the draft or free agency, the 49ers need to upgrade at safety if the defense is expected to take a step forward in 2019.