Editor’s note: Matt Maiocco will provide daily content previewing the NFL Draft, including position breakdowns, news stories, mock drafts and more. Here, he analyzes draft prospects at safety, and whether the 49ers should select one.
Antoine Bethea, the 49ers’ team MVP from 2014, saw action in seven games due to a torn pectoral muscle. But the roster had a good collection of young players to call upon.
Jaquiski Tartt, a second-round pick last year, stepped into the starting lineup alongside Eric Reid. And Jimmie Ward, a first-round selection one year earlier, started a game late in the season, too.
“I just see that as a strength,” Kelly told CSNBayArea.com last month at the NFL owners meetings. “They’ve done a really good job of drafting those guys, whether it’s Jimmie, Jaquiski, Eric. Then you have Antoine.
“There’s talent at a position where everybody’s looking for players. Safety is one of those positions, where I think everybody is scrambling to find players. I think we have talent. That’s definitely one of the strengths of this football team.”
Who’s here: Eric Reid, Antoine Bethea, Jaquiski Tartt, Jimmie Ward, L.J. McCray
Draft needs: Bethea has been cleared to return to football activity. He is set to earn $4.5 million in base salary as he enters the third year of the four-year, $21 million contract he signed in 2014. The 49ers appear to be set up to replace him whenever that decision is made.
Reid enters his fourth season, and general manager Trent Baalke intimated the team will either pick up the fifth-year option before the May 2 deadline or sign him to a long-term extension.
Tartt figures to work into a starting role sooner than later. Ward has starting potential but his main role during his first two seasons was covering the slot receiver.
The 49ers could add a safety with one of its 12 scheduled draft picks, but it does not figure to be a high priority.
Good fits: The 49ers will not be able to find the kind of safety who can do it all, so the 49ers will have to zero in on a niche. They already have a good special-teams contributor, McCray, but he is still rehabbing from a torn ACL. The 49ers could select high-motor and strong-tackler Clayton Fejedelem (Illinois) with one of their sixth-round picks to play on the coverage units.