INDIANAPOLIS -- The 49ers need to add depth at the safety position. There are several big names hitting the free agent market like Landon Collins and Earl Thomas, but there is also a good group of prospects who attended the NFL Scouting Combine that could fill the need.
A few of the draft hopefuls already had the chance to work with the 49ers while at the Senior Bowl. Delaware safety Nasir Adderly (6-foot-0, 206 pounds) was one of them, even though he was coached by the Raiders staff. He had a notable week of practice and performed well in the game with what he recently revealed was a significant injury.
"Unfortunately, I won't be participating in the combine events tomorrow,” Adderly said, “because a lot of you don’t really know, but I was dealing with a high ankle sprain the back end of the year. So, it happened probably Week 6, Week 7 and I've just played through it and got an MRI following the year and it was a pretty significant high ankle sprain.
“But I knew coming from a small school, the Senior Bowl is the most important event for me. So, I wanted to go out there and I just fought through it and it kind of set me back as far as my training for these events. So, I'm getting a lot better and I'm confident I should be able to do everything on my pro day."
The 49ers had the lowest turnover ratio in the league in 2018, so acquiring a known ball-hawking safety is a priority. Virginia’s Juan Thornhill (6-0, 205) got to know the 49ers at the Senior Bowl as well. He ran a 4.42 40-yard dash, showing off his speed, while his stats reflect his coverage ability.
“I’m the type of player that likes to play with my face towards the ball instead of with my back towards the ball,” Thornhill said. “I’m a ball hawk. I had 13 career interceptions, six interceptions this year.
“It seems like every year I get more and more interceptions. I was always taught that the ball is the most important thing. You can’t score points if you don’t have the football, so with a guy like me, you’ll definitely get the ball back to the offense and allow us to put up more points.”
Thornhill explained how he is able to predict where the ball is going for a pick.
“It’s like I can see things happening before they happen,” Thornhill said. “I can see where the quarterback is throwing. I just read his eyes pretty well and break before the ball is released. I think that is my biggest thing. I’m a good player at reading the quarterback.”
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (5-11, 210), who ran a 4.48 40 at the Combine, also considers himself a ball hawk. He recorded four interceptions in his final season at Florida and nine over his three-year career. He also described his versatility.
“It’s big because you can put me anywhere,” Gardner-Johnson said. “I’m not limited to one position. I can be in for base. I can be in for nickel. I can be in for nickel and cover down in the slot, be in the post, come off the hash, I can do anything coach puts me at, no matter where I go.”
“Knowing your assignment, knowing what your teammates are going to do, trusting yourself and trusting your teammates to help you become a ball-hawking safety.”
The 49ers also had a large number of missed tackles in 2018. It’s important that they find players who are able and willing, and Washington’s Taylor Rapp (6-0, 208) is one who thinks he can do the job.
“That’s (some)thing I take pride in,” Rapp said. “I think I'm one of the most consistent tacklers and most reliable defensive players in this draft class. I take pride in everything I do, especially tackling. If it's a one-on-one open-field tackle, I'm gonna tackle the ballcarrier no matter what.”
Alabama’s Deionte Thompson, (6-1, 195) recorded 78 tackles and two interceptions in his final college season, but was unable to participate in drills at the Combine due to a freak accident in the weight room that tore a ligament in his wrist.
Thompson went into the Combine projected for the first round, but his inability to participate could make him a value pick later somewhere in the second. His workout at Alabama’s pro-day could make all the difference.
A few other promising options are Maryland’s Darnell Savage (5-11, 198) and Mississippi State’s Johnathan Abram (5-11, 205). Savage pulled in seven interceptions over his college career and just ran a 4.36 40-yard dash. Abram worked with the 49ers at the Senior Bowl and racked up 99 tackles in his senior year, and ran a 4.45 40.
Any way you slice it, there are promising options for the 49ers to fit their needs at safety.