In this Niner Noise “Who Is?” installment on San Francisco 49ers players this season, we take a look at safety Vinnie Sunseri and the role he’ll play in 2017.
After a rocky, injury-riddled NFL start with the New Orleans Saints, now-San Francisco 49ers safety Vinnie Sunseri is hoping to make Santa Clara a long-term home.
Sunseri entered the league as a fifth-round draft pick of the Saints back in 2014. After being released in 2016, Sunseri had a brief stint with the New England Patriots before the Niners signed him in November of the same year.
The former Alabama product has been a special teams ace, albeit in limited action, since joining the pro ranks.
San Francisco 49ers
This was his primary job over six games with San Francisco last season. And it will likely be the reason he makes the 53-man roster in 2017.
Sunseri does have some defensive versatility to his game. His 6-foot-0, 210-pound frame is suitable to either strong or free safety positions.
Yet the Niners already have Eric Reid and Jimmie Ward pegged in as starters at each, respectively. And with the backup competition heating up, what chances does Sunseri have to make the regular-season roster?
Let’s take a look at what he’ll have to do to make the cut.
Why He’ll Improve
Sunseri hasn’t seen a lot of action on the defensive side of the ball, which means he’ll largely be relegated to special teams.
This is a good thing though. Even NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein pointed out Sunseri’s promise within this unit on his 2014 NFL Draft profile.
Yet the Niners feel he might be worth evaluating as a backup option at free safety. According to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee, the 49ers were giving the 23 year old second-string reps alongside strong safety Jaquiski Tartt at OTAs.
The ability to double as a solid backup may push Sunseri’s stock slightly higher than his competition, which is pretty heated. Rookie Lorenzo Jerome, per Barrows, is another player to watch here.
Why He’ll Regress
As a special teams ace, there shouldn’t be too much to worry about with Sunseri’s game.
But as a regular rotational member of the defense, Sunseri still leaves a lot to be desired. Zierlein pointed out, back in 2014, Sunseri’s lack of big-hitting potential, which probably removes him from the strong safety discussion.
And it isn’t as if Sunseri has good enough speed or coverage skills to master the art of a “center-field” safety in a Cover 3 scheme.
There’s also the injury factor. Ever since being drafted, Sunseri has landed on injured reserve twice — an arm injury in 2014 and a knee injury in 2015.
Limited action may prevent such from reoccurring. But it doesn’t eliminate the concern altogether either.
What to Expect in 2017
Sunseri has a good shot to make San Francisco’s roster this upcoming season.
This is, of course, primarily based off his ability to contribute on special teams and do so effectively well. Yet there’s also plenty of competition.
Jerome is a strong candidate to make the 53-man roster, and the Niners also brought aboard veteran special teamer Don Jones, another defensive back, to add to this unit.
The 49ers may keep four or five safeties on the roster this season. Three of those spots are all but guaranteed to Ward, Reid and Tartt.
Most of the discussion will center around how well these remaining safeties, among others, are able to match special teams effectiveness with adequate depth production.
Sunseri could be among those called, so we should probably consider him on the strong bubble.