The only part of the 2016 49ers defense that could be considered acceptable was the performance of their defensive backs. Nevertheless, the departure of Tramaine Brock has put a considerable dent in the experience and depth of that unit.

Need levels:

  • 10 – no backup calibre options at the position
  • 9 – poor backup calibre options at the position
  • 8 – average backup calibre options at the position
  • 7 – good backup/poor starting calibre player at the position with backups/average player with no depth
  • 6 – average starting calibre player at the position
  • 5 – good starting calibre player at the position
  • 4 – very good starting calibre player at the position/good player with good backup quality player(s)
  • 3 – Pro Bowl calibre player at the position/multiple good to average starters
  • 2 – All-Pro calibre player/multiple Pro-Bowl to good starters
  • 1 – Likely Hall of Famer/multiple Pro Bowl players at the position

*Options are just a selection

Outside cornerback

Will likely be expected to play press coverage a lot of the time, before covering either man to man or being responsible for the deep sidelines.

After Brock’s release the 49ers look very thin at the position with just Rashard Robinson and Jimmie Ward really looking like capable NFL starters. Will Redmond will interest 49ers’ fans but this is very much a position of need with the other players on the roster having had undistinguished careers to say the least.

Need level: *7* (special circumstance, a good to average player on each side, though one of them might be at free safety (normally a 5/6) with almost no depth)

Early round options:

  • Marshon Lattimore
  • Kevin King
  • Quincy Wilson
  • Fabian Moreau
  • Tredavious White

Lattimore, White, Humphrey and Wilson are probably the first round options, but as with most other apparent options for the 49ers, they would look better value if the 49ers can trade down. King and Moreau would be fantastic options at the top of the second round, and White could join them there depending on how teams view him. The 49ers have a huge number of possible players that they could look to target.

Mid round options:

  • Sidney Jones
  • Teez Tabor
  • Rasul Douglas

Jones and Tabor are early round talents based on the tape, but injury and appalling testing respectively see them tumble down boards. Rasul Douglas could be there in the fourth.

Late round options:

  • Brian Allen
  • Chuck Clark
  • Treston Decoud

It would not be surprising if the 49ers really stock up at corner given the lack of depth at the position and a desire to get players who fit the scheme well. All these players have solid measurables, size and the potential to develop.

Nickel cornerback

Will be on the field a significant portion of the time, as the position is increasingly becoming a specialist role.  In man coverage will match up with slot corners and potentially tight ends, whilst also covering hook and flat zones in zone coverage. Should be a willing run defender.

Jimmie Ward could play here but could also be outside or at free safety. K’waun Williams was probably signed to compete at the position and Will Redmond was tabbed as an option at nickel was he to have recovered from his knee injury as a rookie. Alternatively, Keith Reaser could play here.

Need level: 5 (good starting calibre player at the position)

Early round options:

  • Chidobe Awuzie

Awuzie has the versatility to play inside and outside, making him an incredibly attractive option. Likely available at the top of the second round

Mid round options:

  • Cameron Sutton
  • Corn Elder

Both Elder and Sutton would offer real value as nickel corners. Elder is a better run defender but Sutton could be a better cover man.

Late round options:

  • Damontae Kazee
  • Aaron Penton

Kazee was a playmaker in college and is a better option than Penton, who is likely to be available in the 6th or 7th rounds.

Strong safety

The Kam Chancellor role which is integral to the success of this defense. The Seahawks value their safeties over their corners. As an extra body in the box this player helps to shut the run down but must also be able to cover receivers, tight ends and running backs.

Jaquiski Tartt looks to be the best fit at this position with his abilities in coverage and his ability against the run in the box and you sense that he has more upside at this stage of his career than Eric Reid. Reid could also be solid in this role however but shows less than Tartt when in the box. Jimmie Ward could be used in this position if necessary or fulfil certain roles of the strong safety.

Need level: 3 (multiple good to average starters)

Early round options:

  • Jamal Adams
  • Obi Melifonwu

To use an early round pick at the strong safety position would be a significant waste of capital given the other needs the 49ers have. Unless this was a true BPA scenario (which it is highly unlikely to be) the 49ers would be wise to use their first and second rounders at other positions. Though Reid is in the last year of his rookie deal, and Tartt in the penultimate year of his, only Adams represents an almost certain upgrade and picking Adams is only justifiable with a trade back. There is a good chance he is taken by the Bears at 4.

Mid round options:

  • Marcus Maye
  • Rayshawn Jenkins

Two safeties who plied their trade in the state of Florida at college who would represent far better value than taking someone in the top two rounds. With Reid potentially departing and Tartt entering the final year of his deal at the end of the 2017 season, drafting someone in the mid rounds would make more sense than taking someone in the first two rounds. Nevertheless, carrying three pure strong safeties on the roster is unlikely, given their limited ability to cover the free safety position effectively.

Late round options:

Few legitimate late round options at the strong safety position. Josh Harvey-Clemons is an interesting prospect with incredible size for a safety but he has had considerable off-field issues and did not test well athletically, issues that could see him going undrafted. Most of the other options also have some kind of off field questions.

Free safety

The deep centre field safety and even more important than the strong safety. Expected to patrol the deep third and completely shut down the opposition’s deep passing attack.

Right now, the 49ers only have Jimmie Ward who looks like a legitimate contender to play the position, and he has never really played the role in his career. Nevertheless, he has good ball skills but any prediction of success that he may have at the position is pure projection. Dontae Johnson could potentially, play the role, and either Eric Reid or Jaquiski Tartt could play it at a pinch.

Need level: *8* (special circumstances. At this point it is only a projection to refer to Ward as even an average starting calibre player at the position (normally a 6) and given his inexperience in the role, and the lack of depth, this position is a big need)

Early round options:

  • Malik Hooker
  • Marcus Williams

Hooker is as close to the prototypical deep centre fielder as the 49ers are likely to get the chance to draft for a while and would be an excellent pick up, even at 2. It would instantly upgrade the secondary, not only at free safety but allowing Jimmie Ward to play nickel or outside corner. Williams is another excellent centre field prospect and could be an option for the 49ers at the top of round 2, where he could prove to be a steal down the line.

Mid round options:

  • Tedric Thompson
  • Lorenzo Jerome

Both players are ball-hawks through and through, but there are question marks over their athleticism. Those questions could see them drafted later than their college production warrants it. It is their ability to make plays on the ball that will make them attractive options, to compete with or perhaps supplant Ward.

Late round options:

  • Eddie Jackson
  • David Jones

Two players with massively contrasting college careers, Jackson a four year starter at Alabama and Jones a one year starter at Richmond. Jones is a purely developmental prospect, with a lower floor and higher ceiling than Jackson. Again, if the 49ers have not already picked up a free safety question will have to be asked. If they have, Jones would be a fascinating late pick up to follow and a probable practice squad candidate in year 1.

Conclusion to the defensive draft previews

It is very obvious that the 49ers would be better off trading back in the first round if they can, as has been the general consensus throughout the draft process. It may be that they have to consider taking a relatively low-ball offer, but if it nets them extra picks and a better value pick  they should consider it.

Nevertheless, if the 49ers truly love a player then number 2 is not too high to pick them. Despite everything that has happened in the pre-draft process, I would still pick Reuben Foster at 2 if the 49ers are forced to stay at the pick and Myles Garrett is unavailable. Otherwise I would be looking Malik Hooker or possibly Derek Barnett.

Given the money spent on offensive talent in free agency, and the abundance of good defensive options available to them in this draft, the 49ers should be looking to add as many players on the defensive side of the ball as is possible in this draft.

Needs (high to low):

  1. Free Safety (8)
  2. LEO (8)
  3. WILL linebacker (7)
  4. Outside cornerback (7)
  5. SAM linebacker (7)
  6. Nose tackle (7)
  7. MIKE linebacker (5)
  8. Nickel cornerback (5)
  9. 3-tech defensive tackle (4)
  10. Strong side defensive end (4)
  11. Strong safety (3)