Making sense of the San Francisco 49ers safety situation

Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images
Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images /

The San Francisco 49ers safety depth chart remains an overwhelming mess after the team failed to address the position in the offseason.

The San Francisco 49ers received plenty of praise for their handling of the 2019 offseason, but one consistent criticism has been the way that the went about addressing the safety position.

Or rather, how they didn’t address the safety position.

The 49ers had arguably some of the worst play out of their safeties from any team in 2018. While much of that could be attributed to the vast amount of injuries suffered, it’s not as if the team had All-Pro caliber players at the position, to begin with.

Even more so, the injuries were hardly a new theme of the 49ers safeties as the team has dealt with injuries at the position for a number of years now. Simply put, not addressing the position was a mistake.

But we’re past that now.

June has already arrived and the opportunities to aid a questionable unit are slim to none. Sure the team could go out and sign someone like Tre Boston or Eric Berry who still remain unsigned — but they’re still unemployed in June for a reason.

While both could potentially be upgrades if all goes right, it’s looking more and more unlikely that the 49ers will simply roll with what they currently have on the roster. But what exactly do they have?

At the very least, one of the starting safety spots does appear to already be decided. Fifth-year pro Jaquiski Tartt will likely assume the starting strong safety role that he’s held down for a couple of years now. But even Tartt comes with his fair share of concerns.

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While Tartt has been excellent when healthy, the problem is just that — his health. The Samford product has played in just 17 total games over the past two seasons after a relatively healthy start to his career.

The 49ers will be hoping that he could return to a clean bill of health in 2019 but it’s hard to remain so optimistic when we shift to the opposite starting safety job. That spot was supposed to be held down by 2014 first-round pick Jimmie Ward but a broken collarbone suffered in OTAs complicates matters.

Injuries have, unfortunately, been a theme of Ward’s career to this point as the Northern Illinois product has played in just half of the 49ers last 32 games and has found himself on the season-ending injured reserve in all but one of his five NFL seasons.

Ward has shifted all around the 49ers secondary during his time in the Bay Area playing everything from nickel cornerback to both safety positions. His latest injury will keep him out until training camp in July but other players will be given the opportunity to step up for the time being.

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The man who has taken his spot in practice has been 2017 seventh-round pick Adrian Colbert. Colbert entered last season as the team’s starting free safety before suffering a high ankle sprain in Week 7 and finding himself on the injured reserve.

Colbert struggled in a starting role last season finishing with a horrendous 31.7 Pro Football Focus grade which ranked dead last out of all 93 safeties that received grades. However, the former Miami standout has put on about 15 pounds of additional weight as he prepares for the 49ers new defensive scheme that will see the free safety play closer to the line of scrimmage.

The wild card of the bunch could be the young Tarvarius Moore who could be in line for a position switch. But in Moore’s case, it’ll be more of a position homecoming than anything.

Moore excelled as a single-high free safety during his time at Southern Miss but was moved to cornerback during his rookie campaign. The rookie mostly played on special teams where his 4.32 40-time was put to good use.

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However, thanks to a slew of late-season injuries, Moore was thrust into a starting role for two games at the tail end of the year. During that time, Moore impressed in off-coverage but struggled with the hip fluidity and technique required from a typical cornerback.

In essence, he looked like a safety playing cornerback.

Now with Ward’s injury, the team is reportedly seriously considering a permanent move back to safety and that might just be the best thing for both Moore and the 49ers. There, his speed and ball skills could really be maximized and the team could ultimately find their answer at the position.

Others who could see looks at the position include the likes of Antone Exum, D.J. Reed, and Marcell Harris but it’s unlikely any get a real look at a starting safety role barring more injuries.

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Plenty still remains up in the air with the 49ers safety position and if recent history is any indicator, it’s unlikely we see two safeties start all 16 games for the team. But the San Francisco 49ers have options, even if all of them aren’t exactly the most appealing.