Every year, teams that make the playoffs have players burst onto the scene. For Baltimore last year, it was rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson. Nobody knew that the athletic quarterback would have that much of an impact out of the gate. The Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears had a couple of unheralded players take a big leap as well. Eddie Jackson went from a rookie fourth-round pick to an All-Pro safety in a year.
If the San Francisco 49ers are going to take the next step, a player with a lesser role is going to have to step up and surprise. It has to be a player that the coaching staff isn’t counting on as of today. The three players below have their flaws, but they also have the type of upside to surprise.
D.J. Reed Jr.-DB
ReedJr. is the real wildcard to me in the secondary. He can play both safety and in the slot. He bounced back and forth between the two positions last year due to injuries in the secondary. That versatility could go a long way in Reed Jr. staying on the field. Everyone knows the 49ers struggled to take the ball away a year ago. Rolling out the same secondary and expecting different results—despite the much-improved pass-rush—is probably not the answer. Reed Jr. doesn’t have to be a star; he needs to take advantage of his opportunities.
Reed Jr. always had a knack for finding the football in college. If he can give the 49ers consistency and a few takeaways, that would prove to be a big difference for the defense in 2019.
The 49ers will already be relying heavily on one pass-catching rookie this season. Smith has a chance to carve out an instrumental role in the offense, especially down in the red zone. The 6-foot-5 tight end was never known for his ability to separate at Stanford. He was known for his fantastic receiving skills. For a team that was comfortably the worst red zone offense in the league, Smith could be a significant addition.
Smith doesn’t have to catch ten touchdowns to validate the 49ers selecting him. Any production Smith has as a rookie is a bonus. Turning a few possessions into a score because Smith was able to convert, whether that’s in the end zone or he made a tough catch down the middle, would be a successful season for Smith.
Tarvarius Moore-FREE SAFETY
Feels good to type those words after Moore’s name. As you know, Moore recently moved to free safety. Whether that’s temporary or not remains the question. The team still believes in Jimmie Ward. Moore has only practiced a few times at free safety, and that’s been with the reserves. With OTAs this week, and mandatory minicamp in a week, that should give us a clearer picture of what we can expect from Moore this season.
The team hasn’t had consistent production at safety in quite awhile. Unlike the players that have been logging heavy snaps at safety, Moore’s health has never been a concern. His athleticism speaks for itself. Moore showed better instincts than given credit for in college as well. If given a fair chance, Moore would be the best option at free safety, no matter who is healthy or available on the market. The move to free safety is both a short-term and long-term move for the 49ers.