Adrian Colbert

Ranking 49ers' NFL Draft needs is no easy assignment

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AP/USATSI

Ranking 49ers' NFL Draft needs is no easy assignment

Here's the latest edition of 49ers Mailbag with questions submitted to our Facebook page. . . 

What are the 49ers' biggest needs in the draft? (Steven Downs)
This is not an easy excercise. And if you ask me tomorrow, the list might be in a different order. The 49ers have nine draft picks, so here is my subjective list of the 49ers' top draft needs

1. Edge rusher
2. Cornerback
3. Offensive guard
4. Inside linebacker
5. Offensive tackle
6. Wide receiver
7. Tight end
8. Safety
9. Running back

The 49ers have capable players starting – or competing to start -- at every position. Now, they must create more competition and build the back end of their roster.

--There are not many edge rushers who can step in and make an impact, so it's possible this need goes untouched in the draft. The 49ers hope to develop the guys already on the roster – players such as Jeremiah Attaochu, Cassius Marsh, Eli Harold, Pita Taumoepenu – and get more from DeForest Buckner, Solomon Thomas and Arik Armstead, too.

--Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon are slated to start at cornerback. The 49ers need a lot more help at this spot because it is rare that both starting cornerbacks remain on the field together for any length of time. The 49ers are still looking to sign a veteran cornerback so that all the competition at the back end of the roster in training camp does not include undrafted rookies.

--Last year through most of training camp, coach Kyle Shanahan did not believe the 49ers had one, let alone two, starting-caliber offensive guards. Laken Tomlinson was acquired just before the start of the regular season. Now, Tomlinson, Jonathan Cooper, Joshua Garnett and, possibly, Erik Magnuson will be competing for the two spots. Plus, the 49ers could add another guard in the draft.

--The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office has not announced whether it will pursue criminal charges against Reuben Foster. With his status unresolved, the 49ers should add to the depth at inside linebacker.

--The 49ers must start looking for a succession plan at the tackle positions. Trent Brown enters the final year of his contract. The 49ers seem unconvinced about making a long-term financial commitment to him. Joe Staley will be 34 when the regular season opens, and it’s uncertain how much longer he can play at a high level.

Do you think the 49ers will trade for OBJ? Possibly for the #9 pick plus more? (James Dizon Masajo)
I do not.

The New York Giants are reportedly asking for two first-round draft picks for wide receiver Odell Beckham. That is a high of a price to pay for a team, such as the 49ers, looking to build something sustainable.

Plus, Beckham will seek a contract worth $20 million a year.

I’m sure the 49ers would do their homework to determine whether Beckham would fit into the team structure, too. If the 49ers pay that kind of money to a player, the rest of the locker room will be sent a message.

At the NFL scouting combine, Shanahan touched on his philosophy:

“Players watch who you pay. And I want to pay guys who do things the right way. And I also want to pay the best guys — not all overachievers who aren't that great. They've got to be good and they've got to do stuff the right way. When you do that, it adds to your team. But if you start paying guys who don't do that stuff, your team starts saying, ‘OK, we don't have to listen.’”

Are Tartt and Colbert the starting safeties going into camp? (Kelly Fielder)
Don’t forget about Jimmie Ward.

The 49ers plan to play Ward at cornerback throughout the nine-week offseason program while Richard Sherman is rehabbing. But when training camp begins, it seems like a reasonable expectation that Ward will be back at free safety to compete for a starting job.

Jaquiski Tartt and Adrian Colbert will get the first crack during the offseason program to line up at the safety positions.

Also, the 49ers could add someone, such as Derwin James, in the first round. On the surface, the 49ers appear set at safety this season with three starter-caliber players. But Ward and Tartt have contracts that expire at the end of the season, so there is some uncertainty beyond the upcoming season.

Thoughts on Eric Reid? (Jonathan Austin)
Eric Reid is good enough to be a starter in the NFL. But the 49ers do not consider Reid a starter on their team right now with Ward, Tartt and Colbert on the roster. Reid said the 49ers have not offered him a contract. That should not be considered a surprise.

It would be an insult to Reid if the 49ers were to offer him a one-year contract at “backup money.” And there is no reason at this stage of the offseason for Reid to accept a one-year, prove-it contract from any team.

Perhaps a team will step up – before or after the draft – with a contract offer. Perhaps, there will be an injury in training camp that will prompt a team to get in touch with Reid.

To begin with, the safety market has been soft. And there are enough questions about Reid’s overall game that likely have prevented teams from prioritizing him for a multi-year contract. Of course, it would be naïve to think Reid’s protest against racial inequality has not produced a negative impact, too.

49ers' safety Colbert in concussion protocol

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AP

49ers' safety Colbert in concussion protocol

Rookie free safety Adrian Colbert reported concussion symptoms after the 49ers’ 25-23 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, coach Kyle Shanahan said on Monday.

Colbert is in the NFL’s concussion protocol and must clear the five steps necessary to be cleared to return to practice and play when the 49ers return to action Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Levi’s Stadium.

Wide receiver Aldrick Robinson also sustained a concussion on Sunday and is in the concussion protocol.

Colbert played all 64 defensive snaps, as well as five plays on special teams, against the Titans. Colbert was credited with five tackles and a fumble recovery.

How 49ers' four safeties fit into future plans

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USATSI

How 49ers' four safeties fit into future plans

The 49ers are now starting players who began the season as backups at nearly half of the positions on both sides of the ball.

The team’s reliance on depth, in some cases, has highlighted which positions need to be strengthened in the offseason. But at the two safety spots, it has reinforced to the 49ers how much they like the four players who have seen significant action in those roles.

Here is a look at those four players and how they fit into the club’s plans for next season:

ADRIAN COLBERT
There might be no bigger surprise on the team than Colbert, whom the 49ers first tried out at cornerback and expected him to be little more than a contributor on special teams during the regular season.

A seventh-round draft pick, Colbert was overshadowed by undrafted rookie Lorenzo Jerome during training camp. Jerome became expendable early in the season due to his lack of size and speed, as well as his inability to carve out a niche on special teams.

Colbert, the team’s second-leading tackler on special teams, has started three recent games at free safety and has been exceptional with 18 tackles and four passes broken up. His big hit, causing a fourth-quarter fumble of DeAndre Hopkins, helped the 49ers clinch last week’s victory over the Houston Texans.

Colbert has size (6-foot-2, 205 pounds), range, aggression and toughness. After undergoing surgery to repair a broken thumb, Colbert insisted on returning to action a week earlier than the 49ers anticipated.

There is also a belief his game will go another level in his second season, as he plays faster with a greater knowledge and comfort level of his responsibilities in the deep middle of the 49ers’ standard cover-3 defense.

The 49ers have Colbert under contract at low levels through the 2020 season. They are allowed to negotiate a extension with him after the 2019 season.

JAQUISKI TARTT
Tartt started the first two games at free safety before moving to strong safety, where he started the next five games before he was forced back to free safety. The 49ers feel comfortable about Tartt’s ability to play either position. He has good coverage skills but his size and physicality probably make him a better fit closer to the line of scrimmage.

Tartt’s season ended in Week 9 with a broken forearm. He was the team’s leading tackler for most of the season with an interception and three passes defended.

The 49ers are allowed to negotiate a multi-year contract with Tartt after this season, and he would appear to be high on their list of priorities to lock up to a contract extension before entering the final year of his deal.

JIMMIE WARD
The 49ers picked up the fifth-year option on Jimmie Ward last offseason, which means he already has a deal in place for 2018. Because he played cornerback last season – and not safety – his one-year price tag for 2018 jumped nearly $3 million from $5.597 million to $8.526 million. Is Ward worth that much money? That's something the 49ers will have to determine. They could get out of the contract before the new league year begins on March 14.

First off, Ward has not proven he can remain healthy. He has been plagued by a variety of injuries. In his first four NFL seasons, he played all 16 games once. He missed a minimum of five games in every other season, including this year when appeared in just seven games before sustaining a fractured forearm.

His scheduled salary for next season is big. But the 49ers have plenty of cap space, and they are required to eventually spend that money. If the dollars allocated to Ward prevents them from acquiring a targeted offensive lineman, wide receiver or pass rusher, then it becomes a problem. But because the 49ers are currently $54.8 million under the cap, which rolls over to next season, that is probably not going to be an issue.

The 49ers could also try to sign Ward to a multiyear contract with an average dollar amount far south of $8.5 million. But the one-year deal for next season allows the 49ers some flexibility because it would be just a one-year commitment and would not have any financial implications beyond the 2018 season.

Another element Ward gives the 49ers is his versatility. He can play cornerback, too. But his best position is free safety. While the 49ers believe he can be a starter-caliber cornerback, they are confident his can be an All-Pro free safety.

With the three players who are under contract for next season – Colbert, Tartt and Ward – there is little doubt each would play and play a lot in 2018. Injuries seem inevitable. But if each remains healthy and available, the presence of three high-caliber safeties would give the defensive coaching staff flexibility to design game plans to best take advantage of matchups.

ERIC REID
There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding Reid because he is playing this season under the fifth-year option and is scheduled for unrestricted free agency in March. The 49ers like Reid a lot, but they also really like the three aforementioned guys who are already under contract.

When everyone was healthy near the middle of the season, the 49ers settled on Tartt and Ward as the starters and moved Reid to linebacker. Injuries necessitated the move of Reid back to strong safety, where he has found his niche playing close to the line of scrimmage.

The market could determine whether the 49ers bring back Reid. It is uncertain how much – if any – his role in the protest of racial inequality will impact in how other teams assess Reid's free-agent value.

In other words, it is difficult to imagine the 49ers will get into a bidding war for Reid because of the other players they already have at safety. But if the market is soft for Reid, the 49ers would likely welcome him back at the right price.