After an impressive rookie season, San Francisco 49ers safety Adrian Colbert was one of many 2018 player regressions. Here’s why he might bounce back in 2019.
Two-year pro San Francisco 49ers safety Adrian Colbert might want to forget his 2018 campaign.
Well, at the least, he’ll probably want to learn from it.
Pro Football Focus ended up awarding Colbert with a lowly 31.7 overall grade last year — by far the worst out of 93 qualifying safeties. Granted, Colbert’s season was cut short by a high-ankle sprain after seven games that landed him on injured reserve.
Assuming he returns from that fully healthy, though, there’s enough evidence to suggest he can bounce back in 2019.
Remember, Colbert showcased some awfully good efforts his rookie 2017 seasons, ones which helped him lock down the starting free safety job. His ranginess and anticipation that year suggested the Niners found an absolute gem in Round 7 of the 2017 NFL Draft. Yet things fell apart in 2018.
Colbert was targeted nearly equally in both seasons — 10 times his rookie year, compared to 11 in 2018.
So, what happened?
After reviewing a number of plays from Colbert, both good and bad, one of the big differences that stood out from 2017 and 2018 was Colbert’s play reading and anticipation skills, specifically related to how he’d react and take angles.
Case in point, this 2017 play against the New York Giants shows just how quickly Colbert diagnosed a pass from quarterback Eli Manning. Colbert took the correct route, held over-the-top coverage and managed to get in the way of a possible touchdown, forcing an incompletion in the process.
A year later against the Arizona Cardinals, Colbert guessed to the wrong side and ended up running a coverage that gave up over-the-top help to wide receiver Christian Kirk:
Not a good look for Colbert at all. Check this link out for a better look.
Colbert had more than a few coverage gaffes over the course of the year. One of the possible reasons could be improper play reading and poor angles.
But it isn’t as if he never had these skills in the first place. Case in point, as in this 2017 run-stopping play, Colbert used his fellow defenders to seal a gap and forced a fumble:
According to PFF, Colbert missed six tackles in both the 2017 and 2018 seasons. Yet his 37.4 tackling grade last year was nearly half that of his 2017 grade.
Again, poor anticipation and angles could be to blame here.
The good news, however, is these issues aren’t uncommon for young defensive backs, particularly ones with relatively limited playing time at the college level. This second-year regression could be just that, a period of time where Colbert attempted to exceed his own natural instincts and abilities instead of just letting the game come to him.
All said, the 49ers could still be looking for an upgrade over Colbert this offseason. Even if that happens, the Niners experienced a great deal of attrition at safety in 2018, so Colbert’s future role can’t be understated.
If he’s able to focus on rectifying those anticipation and reaction skills between now and Week 1, one should expect some notably better efforts in 2019.
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