No. 2: Free Safety
San Francisco should at least feel OK at strong safety heading into 2019. While he suffered a shoulder injury and landed on injured reserve late in the year, safety Jaquiski Tartt looks to be a decent starting option this season. If not, 2018 rookie defensive back Marcell Harris flashed enough promise to be in the competition mix despite some early woes with tackling.
The problem with this tandem, however, is twofold. First, depth is a key issue. The 49ers played seven different safeties over the course of last year. More importantly, though, the Niners didn’t get the kind of hoped-for production out of their free safety contributors.
Like Ahkello Witherspoon at cornerback, the hope was second-year pro Adrian Colbert would build upon an impressive rookie season. He didn’t, finishing with a 31.7 overall Pro Football Focus grade — dead last among 93 qualifying safeties — before going on IR with an ankle sprain.
None of the 49ers’ other options should be seen as long-term solutions.
In coordinator Robert Saleh’s Cover 3, single-high safety defense, a free safety holds a massive responsibility. He’s essentially the linchpin of the secondary, requiring excellent sideline-to-sideline skills and instincts.
It’s why a name, like the Seattle Seahawks’ Earl Thomas, will be frequently brought up in association with San Francisco on the free-agent market this offseason. Thomas helped perfect this kind of Cover 3 defense, meaning he’ll likely be a top target for Saleh and Co.