49ers roster: George Odum likely climbs no higher than special teams ace

George Odum #30 of the Indianapolis Colts (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
George Odum #30 of the Indianapolis Colts (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images) /

The 49ers made George Odum a big part of their offseason special teams overhaul, but is there a scenario where he plays a bigger role?

Of all the upgrades the San Francisco 49ers sought out during the offseason, few phases of the game stood out more than special teams.

Particularly after Football Outsiders ranked the Niners’ special teams unit 26th at the conclusion of the 2021 season.

There was a slew of notable moves, including inking return specialist Ray-Ray McCloud and linebacker Oren Burks. Yet a highlight free-agent grab was to sign former Indianapolis Colts special teams ace and reserve safety George Odum.

Odum, a 2020 first-team All-Pro for his efforts on this critical third phase of the game, has seen time as a defensive starter, albeit it was limited.

George Odum Defense & Fumbles Table

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com
Generated 7/15/2022.

Ten pro-level starts after coming out of Central Arkansas as an undrafted free agent isn’t a huge sample size over four years, yet in the wake of San Francisco bidding farewell to long-time starting safety Jaquiski Tartt, is Odum poised to take on a bigger role than just a special teams ace?

Let’s break it down.

Why George Odum enjoys a bigger role with 49ers

Tartt’s departure will hurt, and the fact the 49ers inked Odum to a three-year deal worth up to $5.7 million essentially points to them looking at the 28 year old as a key cog on the roster.

Exactly how that cog plays out, though, is yet to be determined.

On the surface, the Niners appear poised to start second-year pro Talanoa Hufanga in Tartt’s stead, yet Hufanga’s straight-line skills and athletic abilities are fairly questioned, and defensive backs can take a few years to fully acclimate to life at the NFL level.

Odum, meanwhile does have more experience, even if it’s not as a starter. Going up against pro players in practices is something, too, and it’s possible any Hufanga shortcomings could point towards Odum actually getting a bigger role as a defensive starter.

Why George Odum emerges as little more than a special teams ace

2021 provides a bit more evidence, at least defensively, as to what fans might expect if Odum winds up having to see time as a starting safety.

Seven of his 10 starts came last year, and he was tabbed with allowing a passer rating of 122.9 with three touchdowns allowed when targeted, and those numbers aren’t particularly great.

Plus, early reports from San Francisco’s offseason workouts suggested Odum wasn’t particularly effective in a defensive role. Granted, those practices aren’t a perfect indicator of what’s to come, but it’s not a great start.

Besides, if the 49ers want Hufanga to assume a greater role, Odum’s future might be relegated to special teams use and backup duties only.

Read More: 3 reasons Niners special teams will be better in 2022

Projecting George Odum’s role with 49ers in 2022

Odum has seen a minimum of 75 percent of his available special teams snaps in each of the last three years.

That’s a good number.

The Niners didn’t bring Odum aboard to be an immediate replacement for Tartt. If they did, Odum would have seen far more first-team reps at safety during workouts so far. And while there may be concerns if Hufanga bottoms out and Odum has to start, at least one can take comfort in knowing San Francisco’s special teams should see a dramatic improvement over 2021.

And if Odum delivers in that way, it’s fine. That’s the prime reason the 49ers brought him aboard.

Next. 49ers' 15 best free-agent acquisitions of all time. dark