The 49ers made a bold move on draft day, jumping up 13 spots in the first round to take LSU safety Eric Reid.
Immediately, Reid was hailed as the successor at free safety for Dashon Goldson, who left the team in free agency.
But is Reid the answer for all the questions that arose in the playoffs and Super Bowl when San Francisco’s pass defense was exposed and exploited?
Not everyone is convinced.
Gregg Rosenthal, the Around the League Editor for NFL.com, wrote this week that Reid – if he wins the starting spot in a duel with veteran Craig Dahl (acquired in free agency from the Rams) – “could have a tough time” being a difference-maker in coverage.
Reid would join veteran Donte Whitner at the safety position; veteran Nnamdi Asomugah was also added to a cornerback group that includes Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver.
“The 49ers gave up far too many big plays in the secondary late last season,” wrote Rosenthal. “That has to be part of the reason why they let Dashon Goldson walk in free agency. Reid is a big hitter who can help the team’s run defense, but there are questions how he’ll hold up in one-on-one situations. Whitner isn’t exactly known for his pass-coverage ability, either.”
Rosenthal said a lot is going to be piled on Reid’s shoulders from Game 1, and Reid should be tested by opponents early and often. The season opener, for instance, should provide a clue how Reid will fare, when he has to work against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.
In addition, the rest of the NFC West has become much more dangerous. Receivers Percy Harvin (Seattle) and Tavon Austin (St. Louis) -- added this offseason -- will face San Francisco twice in 2013.
Reid, at 6-foot-1 and 213 pounds, is said to be faster and more athletic than Goldson. Reid ran a 4.49 40-yard dash and had a 40.5-inch vertical leap at the NFL Combine, considered good numbers for a safety. Over the past two seasons at Louisiana State, he intercepted six passes, broke up 11 others and had 167 tackles.
The 49ers like his performance, his athleticism and his character, and believe in his potential.
Niners GM Trent Baalke said after selecting Reid that he and his staff feel good about Reid’s ability to play “a physical brand of football.”
“He’s a prototype safety in terms of size,” Baalke told reporters. “He’s got the height, weight and speed we were looking for.”
But will he be able to cover skilled NFL receivers?
Though one pre-draft scouting report rated Reid among the best safeties available, and praised him for his hard hitting, tackling ability, run support, quickness and durability, it also labeled him as weak in pass coverage.
Wrote Charlie Campbell of Walterfootball.com, about Reid: “He was routinely beaten for big plays through the air and was a liability in pass coverage all year.” Added Campbell: “He doesn’t have the ability to play man coverage on a slot receiver or a skilled tight end, or defend the deep part of the field. Whichever team Reid lands with will have to protect him in pass coverage.”
Obviously, the 49ers would disagree – and Baalke and head coach Jim Harbaugh have a proven track record of assessing talent.
Harbaugh said the 49ers absolutely wanted to get Reid. They believe he can be a big help.
“You make the evaluation of the player and pick the player where you need to,” said Harbaugh of Reid. “This was definitely our A-option.”