With the NFL draft two weeks away and prognosticators in frenzy mode, one thing seems almost certain:
The 49ers will take a safety with one of their 13 picks, perhaps with their first-round selection (31st overall) or two second-round picks (34th and 61st overall).
As Chris Wesseling of NFL.com noted this week, the team’s biggest need is at the position vacated by the departure of Dashon Goldson to Tampa Bay as a free agent.
While wide receiver, tight end, defensive end and cornerback also rank high on the 49ers’ wish list, San Francisco needs a safety to compete for a starting job against recently acquired former Ram Craig Dahl.
Recently, NFL.com analyst and former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah said he could see the Niners taking Florida International's Jonathan Cyprien with their first pick of the second round, while Wesseling believes Cyprien, Florida’s Matt Elam or LSU’s Eric Reid might be targeted with the team’s first or second pick.
Former NFL safety Matt Bowen, now an NFL analyst, recently said San Francisco is in position to pick up a player who can come in immediately and start in Goldson’s spot.
“Probably in that 25 to 32 range (of draft picks) you’ll see safeties start coming off the board,” Bowen said. “That fits the 49ers perfectly. Are they going to get a player who’s just as good as Goldson? Proably not as a rookie. But coach (Jim) Harbaugh is building a program. If you can get a good young safety for basically an eighth of the price, that’s a smart business model.”
Goldson left for Tampa Bay and a five-year, $41.25 million deal ($17.5 million guaranteed) when San Francisco declined to put a franchise tag on the safety that would have cost about $7.45 million in 2013.
NFL analyst Greg Cosell, who writes for Yahoo Sports, believes this year’s class of safeties available in the draft is “compelling” because several players have proven themselves to be very good in man-to-man coverage, giving them the ability to step in quickly to make a difference.
Cosell – noted for his extensive film review -- is high on Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro, Florida’s Matt Elam, Cyprien and South Carolina’s D.J. Swearinger.
He lists Cyprien and Swearinger as his favorites, even though he says they probably won’t be the first two safeties drafted and Swearinger has been knocked for his 40 time.
“They both will be NFL starters and quality players, maybe even as rookies,” he wrote.
With so many high-value safeties available, the 49ers have a chance to make a bold move, perhaps moving up in the first round to take a player they covet at another position, while still getting a Cyprien or Swearinger later.
On his two favorite safeties, Cosell had this to say:
Cyprien: “What really stood out (on film) was he played the game fast, with velocity, passion and tenacity. There’s no question there were times he was over-aggressive and reckless, although overall he played with an efficient mix of ferocity and control. Given his height (6 feet) and his physique, he exhibited surprising … athleticism, with excellent change of direction and closing speed.”
Swearinger: “(His) versatility fits the NFL game. You don’t have to project. It’s all there on tape. With the myriad responsibilities that safeties now must perform, and that coordinators need them to execute to game plan a fully dimensional defense, the adaptability of a player like Swearinger is critical in the constantly changing world of an NFL offense.”