San Francisco 49ers: Who is safety Eric Reid?

Jun 13, 2017; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid (35) conducts a press conference during the San Francisco 49ers minicamp at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 13, 2017; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid (35) conducts a press conference during the San Francisco 49ers minicamp at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports /

San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid is the focal point here in Niner Noise’s annual “Who Is?” series on the upcoming 2017 season. How will Reid adjust to his new strong safety position?

The San Francisco 49ers will bump Eric Reid from free safety down to strong safety this position — a move made necessary under new defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

“I feel like I was made for this position with my body type being a bigger safety, so I’m excited about this year,” Reid said, via ESPN’s Nick Wagoner.

Of course, the Niners didn’t always employ Reid in this in-the-box role.

Ever since San Francisco drafted Reid at No. 18 overall in the 2013 NFL Draft, the former LSU product has assumed the free safety position, standing atop the defense as its last line.

The numbers were OK, resulting in a Pro Bowl his rookie season, but 2017 could be vastly different:

Eric Reid Defense & Fumbles Table

Provided by View Original Table
Generated 6/22/2017.

Worthy of note is the 25-year-old Reid hits a contract year this season. So there’s more on the line than just ensuring he retains a spot on San Francisco’s roster.

With this as a backdrop, what can fans expect out of the fifth-year pro?

Let’s take a look.

Why He’ll Improve

Reid’s 6-foot-1, 213-pound frame appears to be built more for a traditional in-the-box safety. This kind of weight advantage is more adept to handling running backs and tight ends.

In comparison, newly minted free safety Jimmie Ward owns a 5-foot-11, 193-pound frame, which makes him more ideal to patrol the back end of the defense as the team’s true center-fielder.

The Niners gave up more rushing yards than anyone else in the NFL last season (2,654), so it’s safe to say stopping the run will be the utmost priority for Reid, Saleh and San Francisco’s defense in 2017.

Reid’s 69.3 run-defense grade last year, per Pro Football Focus, was second only to Ward’s 73.5 mark in the secondary.

Yet this new scheme should allow Reid to focus more on tackles close to the line of scrimmage, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see this grade improve.

Why He’ll Regress

Despite the new position and contract year, there remains a real chance Reid continues what appears to be a gradual regression this season.

Concussion problems have already plagued Reid’s pro career. And a biceps injury limited him to just 10 games in 2016.

Let’s assume he stays healthy though. One of the other marks against Reid is his tendency to be overaggressive when he feels he has the big hit lined up. This has softened up a bit, possibly due to concussion concerns, but Reid has been vulnerable when trying to tackle more elusive and agile tailbacks.

This might not be as pressing a concern in 2017, as Reid will have more support around him closer to the line of scrimmage. But it’s worth pointing out nonetheless.

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What to Expect in 2017

There’s a good chance this position switch allows Reid to display the same kind of tenacity showcased during his collegiate days at LSU — the same traits that made him a top-20 pick in the NFL Draft.

Reid is also poised to cash in on his first non-rookie contract, so the extra motivation is also something to watch here.

As far as his roster spot is concerned, the only player remotely capable of challenging him for a starting job is third-year safety Jaquiski Tartt. In an ideal world, the Niners may like to see Tartt take over this job in 2018, allowing Reid to walk in the free-agent market.

But Tartt hasn’t displayed the growth San Francisco otherwise would have hoped for. So the job could remain in Reid’s hands, should both parties decide a reunion is desirable.

The only major 2017 concerns will be, of course, injury and the adjustments to this new role. If Reid can stay healthy, there’s little reason to assume he’ll have a bad season. Rather we could see San Francisco’s defensive back earn his second Pro Bowl accolade within an up-and-coming 49ers defense.

Next: Way-too-early look at the 49ers 2018 salary cap

Let’s hope for the latter.