49ers’ 2018 ‘Who Is?’ series: Defensive back Antone Exum

SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 26: Nick Vannett #81 of the Seattle Seahawks catches a touchdown pass over Antone Exum #40 of the San Francisco 49ers during their NFL football at Levi's Stadium on November 26, 2017 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 26: Nick Vannett #81 of the Seattle Seahawks catches a touchdown pass over Antone Exum #40 of the San Francisco 49ers during their NFL football at Levi's Stadium on November 26, 2017 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /
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The San Francisco 49ers brought back defensive back Antone Exum on Wednesday. Niner Noise’s 2018 “Who Is?” series looks at his chances to make the 53-man roster this upcoming season.

Veteran defensive back J.J. Wilcox sure made things interesting for the San Francisco 49ers this week.

As he was about to sign with the Niners on Tuesday, Wilcox changed his mind and elected to head east to sign with the New York Jets instead. Most likely, he saw a better opportunity to crack the Jets’ 53-man roster than with San Francisco.

That left an open spot on the 49ers offseason roster, and the team elected to fill it with a returnee from 2017, defensive back Antone Exum.

San Francisco announced the transaction Wednesday morning.

Exum appeared in two games with the Niners late last season, starting one of them. Prior to 2017, he was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in Round 6 of the 2014 NFL Draft and spent three years with the franchise:

Antone Exum Defense & Fumbles Table
GameGameFumbFumbFumbFumbFumbSackSack
YearAgeTmPosNo.GGSFFFmbFRYdsTDTklAst
201423MIN321400010042
201524MINfs/ss3212210200100
201726SFOfs402121
CareCare28310300163
2 yr2 yrMIN26210300142
1 yr1 yrSFO2121

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/6/2018.

After the Vikings waived Exum in 2017, San Francisco signed him in November to supplement the team’s depth in the secondary.

The Niners have been looking for some added depth at safety this offseason, which is why players like Wilcox and Exum drew interest. But is there an actual chance Exum cracks the 53-man roster this year?

Let’s take a deeper look.

Why Antone Exum Improves in 2018

At 6-foot-0 and 219 pounds, Exum has both the size and flexibility to double as either a free safety or strong safety. Versatility is key for bottom-of-the-roster players, and Exum will unquestionably need this to have any chance to make it beyond September’s cuts.

Over 41 total snaps last year, Exum posted an overall 43.4 grade, per Pro Football Focus, roughly equal between both coverage and against the run.

This isn’t great. But familiarity with coordinator Robert Saleh’s system should put him in a better position to compete for a roster spot this season. And if he can make some contributions on special teams, all the better.

Why He Regresses

One could argue Exum’s rookie season was his best. At least the PFF data suggests it. In a sense, he’s little more than a reserve option and possible special teams contributor.

All this points to him getting more second- and third-team looks in training camp and the preseason. That’s where roster fillers are mostly located, and it will be hard for Exum to catch coaches’ attentions.

San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers /

San Francisco 49ers

Additionally, Exum ran a 4.59 40-yard time at his NFL Scouting Combine back in 2014. That’s not particularly fast, especially for a free safety in a Cover 3 scheme — ranginess and reaction are vital here.

As such, he’s probably best suited for in-the-box safety duties.

Chances of Making the 49ers’ 53-Man Roster in 2018

Pretty slight, to say the least.

The Niners already have Jaquiski Tartt pegged as the starting strong safety, as well as Adrian Colbert locking down the free safety spot. Additionally, the team brought aboard rookie safety Marcell Harris in Round 6 of this year’s draft. While Harris is coming off an Achilles injury, San Francisco clearly has more invested in the rookie than in Exum at this point.

Perhaps the best chance for Exum to make the roster is if a notable injury happens to one of the aforementioned players.

It’s not a desirable situation, by any means, but it’s probably the only way we’ll see Exum on the roster in Week 1.

Next: Winners & Losers from the 49ers' Final Week of OTAs

Unless he flashes some brilliance we haven’t seen before.