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Fann Mail: A Look at Roles in the 49ers Secondary

Posted May 12, 2017

Could Rashard Robinson and Ahkello Witherspoon be San Francisco's Week 1 starters? We evaluate in this week's mailbag.


It’s time for another mailbag. Let’s see what you guys have for me as the San Francisco 49ers offseason program rolls on.


I’d say there’s a decent chance. Rashard Robinson earned a starting role at the end of last season, and he’s a favorite to do so again in 2017. Jimmie Ward’s potential move to free safety and the absence of Tramaine Brock only help Robinson’s odds. Ahkello Witherspoon is the wildcard. He’s only been on the roster a few weeks which makes it far too early to pencil him into the starting lineup. The 49ers took the Colorado corner in the third round, so the new regime clearly believes in his potential, but he’ll have to beat out Dontae Johnson and Keith Reaser in order to be a Day 1 starter. I’d also add Will Redmond as a name to watch in training camp. The 2016 third round pick is still a relatively unknown commodity after spending his rookie season on Injured Reserve.


Joe Williams will have to earn his reps on gameday, but it certainly helps that he was a player Kyle Shanahan “had to have” in the 2017 NFL Draft. The fact that Carlos Hyde and Williams are completely different runners makes them a nice tandem in San Francisco’s backfield. Williams has the speed to run past defenders while Hyde is well-known to run through them. There should be no shortage of opportunities in Shanahan’s offense. Tim Hightower also adds a proven veteran into the mix who produced last season for the New Orleans Saints. Expect Kyle Juszczyk to play an integral role in the backfield as well.


Shanahan’s prognosis
of NaVorro Bowman last week was incredibly positive. I’d love to see No. 53 back at full strength and patrolling the middle of the 49ers defense in Week 1. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh told reporters that Eric Reid will play much more in the box this season, similar to the role that Kam Chancellor plays with the Seattle Seahawks. Jimmie Ward will get the first crack at free safety. Earl Mitchell and DeForest Buckner appear to be safe bets to start on the defensive line. Beyond that, I believe everything is up for grabs in training camp, as is usually the case with a brand new coaching staff. More than anything, I want to see San Francisco’s young talent continue to develop. Eli Harold, Arik Armstead, Solomon Thomas, Reuben Foster, Jaquiski Tartt, Witherspoon, Robinson, Ward, Buckner and Reid are among the players I’ll be watching closely in August. This is an important year for the 49ers young nucleus on defense.


Marquise Goodwin claimed that he is the fastest player in the NFL when he signed with the 49ers in March. So until I see another player beat him in a footrace, I’m going with the former track star.


Jeremy Kerley was the 49ers leading receiver in 2016 and was one of the team’s few free agents to be re-signed this offseason. He's a safe bet to play a prominent role in 2017. Goodwin’s speed will make him a factor as well. Aldrick Robinson was with Shanahan in Atlanta and is trusted by San Francisco’s head coach. It will be intriguing to see how Trent Taylor fits into the mold. The 5-foot-8 slot receiver was one of Shanahan’s favorite prospects in this year’s draft.

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