A year ago, Pro Football Focus ranked the 49ers secondary dead last in the NFL. It’s not hard to understand why. Outside the veteran, cornerback Richard Sherman, there was fairly little consistency and production. San Francisco generated only two interceptions — an NFL-record low in a non-strike-shortened season — and had a combination of seven different starting safeties over the year.
The Niners didn’t do a lot to change up the roster entering 2019, aside from bringing aboard oft-injured cornerback Jason Verrett, re-signing oft-injured defensive back Jimmie Ward and drafting oft-injured corner Tim Harris out of Virginia.
San Francisco 49ers
Sherman looks to be even more recovered from his 2017 Achilles tear than he was last season, meaning he should be more effective if tested. Verrett, meanwhile, is a Pro Bowl-caliber player when healthy. If he’s able to stay on the field, the 49ers will have a lockdown tandem.
Nickel cornerback K’Waun Williams proved reliable last season, too.
Sherman and Williams were about the only positives from the secondary in 2018. Defensive backs Ahkello Witherspoon and Adrian Colbert both regressed after impressive rookie debuts in 2017, and the Niners had more injuries to deal with, as both Ward and strong safety Jaquiski Tartt ended up on injured reserve before the year was out.
San Francisco had relatively few starting options, and the team’s depth was far from adequate. The lack of serious addressing here could pose some problems in 2019.
Injuries and health. There’s no other way around that particular X-factor.
If the majority of the 49ers defensive backs stay healthy, the secondary’s liability will be considerably less. Additionally, Witherspoon could bounce back from an otherwise disappointing 2018 campaign. He looked good in OTAs and mandatory minicamp, per numerous accounts.
It will also be interesting to see how the 49ers’ defensive switch affects the secondary. There won’t be as much single-high safety formations in 2019 compared to the last two years.