2012 Starting Safeties: Dashon Goldson, Donte Whitner
2013 Notable Departures: Dashon Goldson
2013 Notable Additions: Craig Dahl
2013 NFL Draft Prospects: Matt Elam (Florida), Eric Reid (LSU), Kenny Vaccaro (Texas), Jonathan Cyprien (Florida International), Phillip Thomas (Fresno State)
When Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson left San Francisco to sign a five-year, $41.25 million contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the 49ers' backfield suffered another blow—much like the ones received at the hands of Joe Flacco during the Super Bowl.
Considering that Goldson was interested in cashing in, it makes sense that the 49ers were not interested in bringing him back at such a lofty price tag (wpxi.com). San Francisco needed to evaluate its salary cap situation as well as future contracts for some of its young stars like Colin Kaepernick, Aldon Smith and Michael Crabtree.
Still, Goldson's departure hurts the 49ers. San Francisco immediately redressed the situation somewhat by signing former Rams safety Craig Dahl to a three-year, $5.2 million contract. Yet Dahl appears to be more of an insurance policy for the 49ers than anything else and San Francisco will certainly look towards the draft for long-term needs at safety.
In addition, Donte Whitner will be a free agent after 2013.
Fortunately, this year's draft class is deep at the position.
Florida's Matt Elam is atop the leaderboards at safety this year, but at 5'10", he lacks the height ideally suited to play the position. While CBS Sports' Rob Rang has Elam being selected by the Green Bay Packers in the first round, it is possible that he could still be on the board when the 49ers are up. The question is whether or not San Francisco is willing to gamble on his height.
Kenny Vaccaro out of Texas is another plausible option, although he is projected to be drafted long before the 49ers will employ their first-round pick (cbssports.com).
The San Francisco Chronicle's 49ers insider Kevin Lynch predicts that the 49ers will have to select not just one, but perhaps two safeties in this year's draft; one to replace Goldson and another to potentially replace Whitner the following season (sfgate.com).
Two prospects that are more likely on San Francisco's draft radar are Louisiana State's Eric Reid and Florida International's Jonathan Cyprien.
CBS Sports' Rob Rang has the 49ers drafting Reid with their first-round pick (cbssports.com).
Physically, Reid is a great option at the position and is one of the larger safeties coming out in the draft. Yet there have been considerable problems with Reid's consistency and game play. While he is fast and big, he has often been burned in coverage and has, at times, looked lost on the field of play (ninersnation.com). In addition, he has struggled with tackling and does not appear to become an "elite" safety at the NFL level (ninersnation.com).
Yet with any rookie, good coaching can be the difference-maker for raw talent. Reid's setbacks are not physical in nature and the 49ers have plenty of good coaches who can help him reach the next level.
Even more intriguing for San Francisco is Florida International's Jonathan Cyprien. Cyprien has been garnering more interest from the 49ers as of late. Cyprien, who is a little taller and bigger than Elam, is predicted to go in the second round of the draft and would likely be available to the 49ers.
ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. would not be surprised to see the 49ers draft Cyprien, potentially using either one of their 31st or 34th overall picks (via mercurynews.com).
In four seasons at Florida International, Cyprien totaled 365 tackles and six interceptions (sports-reference.com). He brings the physical attributes necessary at the position and has shown the ability to play at a high level.
CBS Sports' Rob Rang had this to say about Cyprien:
Well-built defender who certainly looks the part of an NFL safety. Aggressive playing style and active demeanor. Took advantage of the Senior Bowl opportunity, standing out with his full-speed effort from the first practice. Enjoys the physical nature of the position. Meets the ball-carrier with a pop and refuses to let up. Shows the ability to extend and snatch the ball out of the air. Has consistently played well against so-called "top" competition over his career, enjoying standout performances in past years against the likes of Texas A&M, Rutgers, Maryland and Louisville, among others.
These attributes, combined with the fact that Cyprien should be available during the first two picks the 49ers have, make him an excellent fit in San Francisco.
In all likelihood, the 49ers will have to start a rookie safety this year and that may lead to some potential issues. Yet San Francisco can count on its excellent coaching staff and core of young talent to work with any rookie prospect.
Whether or not they bring in one or two safeties to address the team's needs remains uncertain, but regardless, the 49ers will be in a much better position if they are able to land a safety such as Cyprien or Reid. In the case of Cyprien, San Francisco may also be able to save some of its mid to late-round picks in order to trade up, therefore enabling a scenario to draft some of the higher-touted prospects needed to fill other voids.
It is speculation at best, but fortunately the 49ers have few needs. Therefore the speculation is relatively easy to decipher.
They will fill their voids. That much is clear.
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