With the exciting end of the 2017 season fully in the rearview, the San Francisco 49ers look to repeat their success from last year’s draft. As the division rival Los Angeles Rams continue to make significant additions, the 49ers will look to make the type of leap the Rams took last season.
Defense was the focus of last year’s draft for San Francisco as they doubled down on athletic players to help the front seven in the first round. The front office selected six defenders out of 10 draft picks. The approach seemed to work as the run defense improved from game to game with the additions of Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster. Along with them, the team’s third pick Ahkello Witherspoon and last pick Adrian Colbert stepped up when opportunity knocked.
Continuing with that trend, I believe that Florida State safety Derwin James can immediately help continue San Francisco’s resurgence within the NFC West.
Derwin James Is a Good Fit for the San Francisco 49ers
At strong safety, he can be deployed all over the field. Whether it’s coming down in the box in run support, helping out in zone coverage, or being an enforcer across the middle, James can do it all. In an effort to recreate the successful defense in Seattle, the 49ers brought in Richard Sherman to play the outside and also be a coach on the field for the young secondary. While his former team had elite athletes at every level of the defense, it can’t be overstated how important their safeties were to Sherman’s success.
The defense has invested four first-round picks on the front seven. This has helped them improve against the run. The next step in the evolution of the defense is to add athleticism and versatility to the secondary. If his game tape doesn’t convince you of it, he also tested well across the board at the Combine. He showed sub 4.5 speed, 40″ vertical leap, and an eleven foot broad jump.
Adding James to the existing secondary group will allow the team to solidify not one or two positions but three. Slotting James into the strong safety role will allow Jaquiski Tartt to commit to free safety and allow Adrian Colbert to rotate into either position. Solidifying the safeties will allow Jimmie Ward to move to corner once again. In a contract year for both Ward and Tartt, this could offer the best opportunity for either of them to sign a future deal with the team.
With a young team and especially young secondary, it is imperative to add players that will push the entire group in the weight room and lead by example in the locker room. Adding Sherman will surely help in terms of a veteran presence that knows the ins and outs of the defensive system. But beyond that, the defense needs an alpha in the secondary that will be on the field every step of the way. Sherman’s rehab from his Achilles injury may limit his practice time in the early going and Reuben Foster‘s near certain suspension will keep him sidelined for a number of games. Having James as a leader on and off the field will prove invaluable for the entire defensive unit.
James’ coaches from high school and college rave about his work ethic and willingness to be a leader. At Florida State in 2016, he only played in one game before suffering a torn meniscus but it didn’t keep James from staying involved with the team in the film room and on the sidelines.
Getting James to San Francisco
There are several pivot points in the draft order ahead of the ninth overall pick but if the presumed run on quarterbacks happens early on, it’ll setup the 49ers with a variety of win/win scenarios. As teams prioritize the higher profile positions, it could help James slide down the draft board. If that happens, expect the 49ers to weigh their options and select their future anchor in the secondary.