49ers rookie Jared Mayden a long-term option at safety?

Jared Mayden #8 of the Alabama Crimson Tide (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Jared Mayden #8 of the Alabama Crimson Tide (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) /

The 49ers inked former Alabama safety Jared Mayden after the 2020 NFL Draft, and Niner Noise looks at if he can be a long-term starting option.

The San Francisco 49ers are hoping former Alabama defensive back Jared Mayden can be their next case example of an undrafted free agent making sparks at the NFL level.

Previously, the Niners experienced success with now-Miami Dolphins running back Matt Breida as well as wide receiver Kendrick Bourne. And by the initial stock levels Mayden has, there are reasons to believe he’ll be a solid contributor, too. While many of San Francisco’s other UDFA signings all have promise, Mayden stands out as the best from the 2020 class of unheralded, undrafted players.

Mayden was largely overshadowed by his former Crimson Tide teammate, fellow safety Xavier McKinney, who was selected in Round 2 of the draft by the New York Giants.

Still, Mayden put together a solid collegiate career, which included four interceptions and three pass breakups his senior season:

Jared Mayden Defense & Fumbles Table
TacklesDef IntFumbles

Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 7/15/2020.

Had Mayden done this over the course of two-plus seasons, he could have been a day-two pick at worst.

That said, there are plenty of reasons why the 49ers should like Mayden, certainly including NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah ranking him the No. 114 overall prospect last April and the No. 2 undrafted free agent.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. also didn’t hesitate to sing Mayden’s praises.

San Francisco has a provocative situation at safety after 2020, namely the chance of starting strong safety Jaquiski Tartt walks in free agency. There aren’t too many quality options behind Tartt, meaning Mayden could have a path to assume starting duties as early as 2021.

Here’s what he’ll have to do to get there, as Niner Noise’s “Who Is?” series takes a closer look.

Why Jared Mayden improves with 49ers in 2020

One of the things standing out about the 6-foot-0, 205-pound Mayden is his versatility, which is a great way to improve roster chances early, particularly for an undrafted player.

Mayden played all cornerback spots at Alabama and also saw time in both safety positions, too. His lack of sideline-to-sideline speed largely prevents him from single-high options, so considering him a free safety is somewhat out of the mix, although the Niners used more traditional two-deep safety formations in 2019 than they had in years prior.

Two primary traits show up in this 2019 game film versus Auburn: Mayden’s solid football IQ, demonstrated by excellent positioning and communication, and the willingness to get down and dirty in run defense:

These traits are necessary for pro-level development, and the run defense would help him solidify a role as a would-be starter at strong safety.

Mayden’s recent track record as a ballhawking defensive back doesn’t hurt either.

Why Jared Mayden regresses with 49ers in 2020

Due to COVID-19, Alabama’s pro day was canceled and Mayden didn’t receive an invite to the 2020 NFL Combine.

His speed shows up on tape, but one of the bigger question marks could center on his twitchiness and reaction skills. Those weren’t exactly selling points on his stock value for the majority of his collegiate career, and one solid year of production won’t justify any team being overly patient with his development.

In many cases, Mayden looks the part of a player waiting for the action to come to him rather than dictating where it will go.

For a Niners defense priding itself on aggression, this could be a negative trait. Getting that proverbial “dog” in his arsenal of tools is something Mayden will need to discover early in his pro career to hang around.

If he doesn’t, he’ll likely be little more than an afterthought.

Chances of making 49ers’ 53-man roster in 2020, future roles

As an UDFA, Mayden will still have a long road ahead of him in order to crack the 53-man roster in year one.

San Francisco already has a backup to Tartt, Marcell Harris, who has presence against the run but is largely a liability in coverage. If Mayden shows a superior ability to defend against the pass, that’s a big plus. But he’ll also be asked to outperform other defensive backs vying for roster spots, including the versatile veteran, Derrick Kindred, who has experience at both safety positions already.

To have a chance at the roster, Mayden will likely have to outperform both Harris and Kindred along with anyone else the 49ers are thinking about for strong safety.

As such, it wouldn’t be too shocking to see Mayden on the field a lot during training camp and the abbreviated preseason. San Francisco might want to explore as much about Mayden as possible, perhaps stashing him on the practice squad for some added development, at worst, or potentially putting him on the back end of the regular-season roster once Week 1 rolls around as Tartt’s primary backup.

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Regardless, Mayden has a high ceiling for a UDFA and should be enticing enough to watch in training camp. If he capitalizes on his present strengths while honing his weaknesses, the Niners could eventually have themselves a steal of a player.