This offseason has been one that has seen the best of the San Francisco 49ers’ secondary depart with few pieces being brought in to replace them. Last season, San Francisco ranked as the worst of all 32 NFL teams against the run but somewhat made up for it with their adequate passing defense. They finished 14th in passing yards against, 23rd in interceptions, and 12th in completion percentage allowed. However, some of the 49ers’ best defensive backs moved on from the team leaving massive holes. If the team has any chance of having a decent passing defense once again they need to add or develop a couple of solid defensive backs before the season starts.
It is difficult to argue that strong safety Antoine Bethea was not the most important player on the 49ers’ secondary last year. He not only led entire team in combined tackles last season, he also ranked third among all NFL defensive backs with 110. That being said, he was waived earlier this past March and now is a member of the Arizona Cardinals.
Tramaine Brock, the leading cornerback last year, was recently released only hours after the news of his felony for domestic abuse was announced. General manager John Lynch said, “I think there’s been some conjecture that we didn’t think highly of him. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. He was a starting player for us. So that was not easy.” It sent a zero-tolerance message to the other players, but resulted in losing a great player.
Even though starting cornerback Brock was just released, John Lynch plans to have the team’s other starter, Jimmie Ward, play the safety position left by Bethea. When asked about cornerbacks, Lynch said, “The draft’s a great way to acquire some of those guys and there’s other avenues as well. So it’s something that, yes, we need to get better at that position. We like some of what we have, but we’re always looking.”
Free safety Eric Reid struggled with another injury (torn bicep) and missed a large part of the season because of it. If he had played the entire season, he likely would have challenged Bethea as team leader in tackles. With Brock and Bethea’s departure, Reid instantly becomes the leader of the secondary and needs to have a healthy, productive season.
The 49ers have other role players on the secondary. 2016 third and fourth-round picks, Will Redmond and Rashard Robinson have good chances at securing the starting position this upcoming season. Redmond should now be completely healthy from his ACL tear two years ago and Robinson played well when called upon last season. Don Jones was also acquired this offseason and could see some playing time as well as Dontae Johnson.
With the 49ers primed to pick early in this year’s NFL draft, they have a great deal of options. One that seems to be a perfect fit is top cornerback Marshon Lattimore out of Ohio State. An amazing athlete with tremendous coverage skills and upside seems to be exactly what the 49ers should be looking for. The only setback is his enduring hamstring injury.
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