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PFF ranks 49ers secondary dead last in NFL

The new secondary coach has his work cut out for him.

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The San Francisco 49ers are in the market for a new defensive backs coach, with Jeff Hafley departing to take over as co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State. Assistant DBs coach Daniel Bullocks likely will get a chance to discuss the job, but Kyle Shanahan and Robert Saleh could look for some additional options outside the organization.

Whomever takes over the role, there will be plenty of work to be done with the secondary. Richard Sherman bounced back solidly from his torn Achilles, but the rest of the unit was inconsistent for much of the season. Earlier this week, Pro Football Focus ranked all 32 NFL secondaries, and they slotted the 49ers in dead last. Here’s what they had to say about the unit.

Richard Sherman’s presence could only do so much to prop up the league’s worst unit. The free agent corner only allowed 25 catches in 14 games this season, but injuries and a ton of busted coverages are why they still sit at the bottom. Eleven other players besides Sherman received at least 100 snaps in the secondary, and none graded higher than 66.7 overall.

Ahkello Witherspoon struggled as much as anybody in this unit after a solid rookie season. B the time he went on IR in Week 16, he was starting to return to decent form, but his numbers took a dive overall. It is interesting to note however that by season’s end his numbers were not too shabby.

Sherman gave up 25 receptions on 40 targets (62.5 percent) and 14.6 yards per completion with an NFL passer rating against of 100.0. Meanwhile, Witherspoon gave up 37 receptions on 68 targets (54.4 percent) and 11.5 yards per completion with an NFL passer rating against of 98.0. The big difference was coverage snaps per reception. Out of 132 qualifying cornerbacks, Sherman ranked No. 3 overall while Witherspoon ranked No. 43. Tarvarius Moore did not play enough snaps to qualify.

The two safety positions will feature plenty of competition in 2019. Adrian Colbert will return from his high ankle sprain and Jaquiski Tartt will return from his shoulder injury. Marcell Harris emerged as a contender for the strong safety role, while D.J. Reed and Antone Exum will compete with Colbert at free safety. Jimmie Ward likely will not return, but we’ll see what free agency brings.

The big question at safety is if the team makes a run at veteran Earl Thomas. He knows the defense backwards and forwards, and even as he approaches 30 is still one of the best safeties in the game. It would not be a long-term move, but it would be an instant upgrade.

At cornerback, the team has to decide if they want to roll the dice with their young talent, or make a splash at the position. Witherspoon and Moore will compete for an opportunity with Sherman, but as John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan have said, you can never have enough good cornerbacks.