Dec 2, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dwayne Harris (17) tries to avoid a tackle by Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (24) during the game at Cowboys Stadium. The Cowboys beat the Eagles 38-33. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

2013 NFL Draft: Why San Francisco 49ers Must Draft Free Safety In First-Round

Oct. 29, 2012; Glendale, AZ, USA; San Francisco 49ers cornerback (29) Chris Culliver celebrates a play against Arizona Cardinals wide receiver (11) Larry Fitzgerald in the second half at University of Phoenix Stadium. The 49ers defeated the Cardinals 24-3. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The realization of losing FS Dashon Goldson to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. He was the unquestioned heart and soul of the secondary, and provided a physical presence that has not been seen from the safety position since the days of former San Francisco 49er Lance Schulters. However, all good things must come to an end, and the 49ers now find themselves searching for Goldson’s replacement.

December 23, 2012; Tampa, FL, USA; St. Louis Rams strong safety Craig Dahl (43) defends a pass intended for Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson (83) in the endzone during the first quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

No disrespect to newly acquired SS Craig Dahl, but he is not the answer. He is a liability in pass coverage and does not possess the necessary range to cover the deep-half. He is a serviceable player at best. Which is why the Niners must draft a starting caliber free-safety. A few names that may be available when the 49ers are on the clock with the 31st pick in the first-round include, FS Jonathan Cyprien (FIU), FS Eric Reid (LSU), and FS Matt Elam (Florida). All of those players would be a nice addition to the secondary, and would help alleviate the loss of Goldson.

However, should the 49ers decide to pass on a free-safety, could be an indication that current cornerbacks CB Chris Culliver or CB Nnamdi Asomugha may assume that role. The 49ers already have a log jam at the cornerback position with CB Carlos Rogers, CB Tarrell Brown, Culliver, and now Asomugha. If the 49ers decide to utilize their talents, they should strongly consider sliding Culliver or Asomugha to the vacant free-safety position.

Believe it or not, Culliver’s natural position is free-safety as he played that position in college at South Carolina. He was projected by many scouts to be a free-safety coming out of the draft, but the 49ers opted to place him as the nickel and dime cornerback, allowing them to take advantage of Culliver’s speed and big body against a smaller slot receiver. The move would do wonders for Culliver, and I believe he will thrive.

Another option would be to try Asomugha at that position if all else fails. Sure, there would be some type of learning curve for the former All-Pro, but Asomugha has a very high football IQ, and his ability to adjust should be seamless. He thrives in a read and react scheme, so having him mirror the quarterback, will allow for more interceptions, which will then lead to better time of possession for the offense.

I’m not sure the 49ers will give Asomugha or Culliver a shot at the free-safety position as it is just a thought. However, should the Niners decide to draft a safety, it better be early, as the NFL Draft is top heavy at the position.


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Tags: Chris Culliver Eric Reid Jonathan Cyprien Matt Elam Nnamdi Asomugha San Francisco 49ers

  • Mark Maslowski

    Asomugha played free safety at Cal, so he is familiar with the position.

    • Ryan Sakamoto

      I agree. He should be able to fill in nicely if called upon. Thanks for the feedback.

  • RJS77

    Culliver at Free Safety, interesting. From a distance, Culliver appears to have the needed capabilities including very good coverage skills, while also being intelligent, swift, strong and stout for run support. If this option is feasible, the Niners should use 2 of their first five draft picks on cornerbacks: one on with strong slot coverage skills and the other on a larger, rangy corner that can cover tight ends and larger receivers or backs. Very interesting.

    • Ryan Sakamoto

      Thank you for the feedback Robert. I do think Culliver would be a great asset as a free-safety. I hope they draft CB Tyrann Mathieu in the second-round as I feel he will be the missing piece to the secondary as a primary nickel/dime corner.

      • RJS77

        Trufant, Taylor, Slay or Poyer appear to be much better slot corners, and the 9ers should use either pick #31, #34 or #61 along with a trade or two to move up our down the line to select one of these guys. I am not a fan of Tyrann.

  • James Clerk

    Culliver does not have enough experience on the read.

    The FS is the quarterback of defense; he has to quickly read the opposing offense and correctly call the defensive play.

    Asomghua’s forte is jamming the receiver, something for the CB but not the FS.

    The FS must not be fooled, or not commit too early.

    The problem with Goldson is the Niners were lousy without him, but not the greatest WITH him; which is what they needed in the playoff.

    Goldson got fooled more than once in the playoffs, and got burned badly.

    Woodson could play FS, but has lost more than a step.

    Let’s hope they’ll draft a FS who comes to play, or somehow JH and VF can successfully convert a CB into a FS, like Walsh did with Lott.