The San Francisco 49ers wrapped up the 2018 season and they have begun their work to prepare for 2019 free agency and the NFL draft. The coaches and scouts are back from a week in Mobile, Alabama at the Senior Bowl, but there is plenty more to be done as they get ready to build on a disappointing 2018 campaign. We’ll be breaking down plenty of what that means, but in the meantime, we wanted to take a look back at the season that was for the 49ers.
Jimmy Garoppolo’s injury sent things south, but there is plenty still to assess. We are going to take a look at every notable addition and provide a forum for grading how that signing, trade, or draft pick worked out.
Marcell Harris, safety
How acquired: Drafted in the sixth round (91845th overall)
Earlier this month, we put together a poll grading rookie cornerback Tarvarius Moore. Some suggested it should include a grade for incomplete, but I figured he got a full season of special teams, so there was at least something on which to base his grade.
I decided to go with an incomplete for Harris, and change up the poll. Instead of grading his first year, I decided to ask for projections in year two. Specifically, what will his role be in 2019 when the Week 13 season arrives. That will be roughly the first week of December, so ideally it would not simply be garbage time in the season at that point like Week 17 may or may not be.
The 49ers entered the season with the hope of a starting safety duo featuring Adrian Colbert at free safety and Jaquiski Tartt at strong safety. Injuries were a problem up and down the roster, and outside of the quarterback position, it was felt most at safety. The team went through eight safety combinations last season. There is nothing great about that, but one positive was a chance to see a host of different players get some opportunities. D.J. Reed got some time at free safety and slot corner, and Marcell Harris got a chance to close out the season as the starting strong safety.
Harris entered the NFL coming off a 2017 torn Achilles that cost him his final season at Florida. The timeline put him on track to return for the start for the 2018 season, but a hamstring season put him on IR to open the season. The 49ers put him on after final cuts, rather than before, thus opening the door for an in-season return. Harris did in fact return, making his debut in Week 9. He played six defensive snaps and 15 special teams snaps. He followed that up with 18 special teams snaps before the team’s bye week. Coming out of the bye in Week 12, he grabbed eight defensive snaps, but injuries created an opportunity. Free safety Jimmie Ward went on IR and Jaquiski Tartt moved over to that role, opening up the strong safety role for Harris. Tartt got injured the next week, and Antone Exum replaced him at free safety. Tartt went on to finish out the season as the starting strong safety.
It was five weeks of ups and downs you would expect from a rookie. Kyle Shanahan and Robert Saleh both acknowledged that Harris looked like a player who had missed significant time. Saleh said he needed to clean things up after his first start, but that he expected the biggest growth could come from his first start to his second start. He showed some improvement the next week, and as the season closed out, we saw plenty to like and plenty to clean up. About what you’d expect from a rookie with potential.
Shanahan said that Harris will compete for a starting role in 2019. We could see the 49ers head into 2019 training camp with Adrian Colbert and Jaquiski Tartt once again lined up to start at the two safety positions. The 49ers would bring in Earl Thomas to compete with Colbert, or could find a player in the draft. For strong safety, however, my guess is Tartt and Harris will be the prime competitors. And while one will lose out on the starting job, I suspect one will get significant playing time in a rotational role like a money-backer we see some teams use.
Whether Harris starting or in a key reserve role, it will depend on him building on those five starts heading into the offseason. Shanahan said he loves Harris’ mindset, in that he does not hesitate. He will be wrong at times, but more experience will improve that. This offseason is the first step in building on that initial opportunity. What will he make of it?
What will Marcell Harris’ role be Week 13 of the 2019 season?
This poll is closed
Starting strong safety
Reserve safety serving as a rotational option
Reserve safety playing almost exclusively special teams snaps
On the practice squad
No longer with the organization