Ronnie Lott’s hit on Ickey Woods in Super Bowl XXIII. Donte Whitner’s hit on Pierre Thomas in the 2011 NFC Divisional Game. Body-rocking, tone-setting hits are a quality the 49ers traditionally value in their safeties. That type of physicality is the mark of a titan at the position.
And it’s a captivating element Louisville’s Calvin Pryor will be dangling over the heads of NFL general managers come May 8.
After losing Whitner to a gargantuan deal offered up by the Cleveland Browns, the 49ers had a hole at safety. They plugged it with another known veteran at a cut-rate, but will there be a noticeable drop off in production? The 49ers have to safeguard themselves and drafting a safety seems like a smart move.
According to CBSSports.com, Pryor is the No. 2-rated free safety behind Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton Dix.
But with his downhill style and dimensions, it seems he can predominantly play the strong side in San Francisco’s interchangeable system. At the same time, he’ll have the upside of a roaming free safety from a cover perspective.
It’s largely why Pryor has a first-round grade.
Though, it seems unlikely the 49ers pick a safety in the first round in back-to-back drafts (having traded up to No. 18 for LSU’s Eric Reid in 2013). Ideally, they’d like to spread the talent around and not invest too much at one position that has a questionable impact on the game, especially without a functional pass rush.
Great safeties are a luxury if you don’t have a strong front seven; just ask the Buffalo Bills.
Then there’s also the Antoine Bethea factor, the two-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion safety acquired via free agency. The idea was he was signed so the 49ers did not have to reach for a safety too early, and instead, possibly take a talented one like Jimmie Ward or Deone Bucannon in Round 2 or 3.
Odds of Selection: 30-1