The 49ers new free safety is primed for a breakout second season
Which second-year player is poised to break out? I wanted to say Solomon Thomas; everyone likes sacks. I could’ve said Reuben Foster, because he was a #5AVA6E last year. Or George Kittle, Trent Taylor, Kendrick Bourne, or Matt Breida since the offense will obviously be fire. I think Ahkello Witherspoon takes a big step next year, but I’m taking a pass on all these guys. My second-year player to make a big leap is Adrian Colbert.
Have you ever interviewed for a job, gotten hired, and then been told you’re actually taking on a new role that you’ve never done before, and, by the way, you’re doing it in front of 68,500 people each week? No? Well, welcome to Adrian Colbert’s rookie season, and the former cornerback turned safety out of University of Miami didn’t flinch.
Colbert started the season on special teams, but after injuries in the secondary he made his first career start in Week 10 against the New York Giants. Colbert announced himself to 49er fans that game with two jarring hits that broke up passes – including saving a touchdown on a deep throw to Evan Engram. Colbert continued his physical play throughout the season, drawing comparisons to a former Niners safety who also wore number 38, Dashon Goldson. But where Goldson lacked in coverage, Colbert excelled, receiving an 80 grade from Pro Football Focus, with an overall grade of 77.6. He finished the season as the 46th ranked safety according to PFF, ahead of first-round picks Malik Hooker and Jabrill Peppers.
Why is he my choice to make a big jump? The simple answer is that he’s now had a full year to learn a new position. He was learning on the fly last season and showed improvement each week, enough so that during an interview at the owners’ meetings in Orlando 49ers general manager John Lynch confirmed that Colbert would be replacing Jimmie Ward, the team’s highest paid defender, at free safety. But the secret weapon in Colbert’s development will be newly acquired cornerback Richard Sherman. Sherman spent seven years in the defensive backs room with Earl Thomas, who is the epitome of what the free safety is supposed to be in this style of defense. Sherman knows exactly where Colbert is meant to be during each play and if Instagram is any indication, these two have become fast friends. If I had to guess, I think Colbert is going to be bending Sherman’s ear every chance he has in order to gleam every bit of knowledge that the three-time All-Pro has. With the physical intangibles already in place and now a future Hall-of-Fame mentor, I expect Colbert to build on a successful rookie season and become a force within the 49ers secondary for the 2018 season.
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