The San Francisco 49ers secondary garnered the highest positional ranking yet from advanced statistics site Pro Football Focus. The group came in 17th among the NFL's 32 teams.
One of the big offseason question marks has been who would start opposite Tramaine Brock at cornerback. Defensive back Jimmie Ward has been getting a lot of practice time opposite Brock and is a solid candidate to grab that spot. In fact, Ward recently ranked fourth on beat writer Chris Biderman's list of the team's top 25 players.
Matt Claassen of Pro Football Focus projects Brock and Ward to be the team's two starters at cornerback with Chris Davis playing in the slot role. While Davis achieved a 75.6 overall grade in 2015 from the site, it was just through 17 snaps and the cornerback went unranked.
Ward achieved the team's highest Pro Football Focus grade among cornerbacks in 2015. He had a 78.2 overall grade last season. Ward had 57 tackles, an interception, a sack, and six passes defended in 749 total snaps last season and was the 35th ranked cornerback according to Pro Football Focus. Brock came in one spot lower at 36 with a 77.7 overall grade, but had a larger pool of snaps being in on 1,094 plays.
It's no surprise that Claassen listed Antoine Bethea and Eric Reid as the starters at safety. Other "names to know" included S Jaquiski Tartt, CB Dontae Johnson, CB Will Redmond, CB Rashard Robinson, and CB Kenneth Acker. "Tartt allowed 1.18 yards per snap in coverage, the highest average for a safety in 2015," says Claassen. However, Johnson ranked as the team's third best corner in 2015 with a 71.1 overall grade over a span of just 380 defensive plays.
"Much of the 49ers' roster struggled last year, but the secondary fared well for the most part," explained Claassen. "Recent draft picks Ward and Reid have performed above-average, even though they may have not yet shown enough to live up to their first-round status. Brock didn't come close to his career-year of 2013, but had a solid season after missing most of the 2014 season. Having Bethea back will solidify the safety position and give Tartt more time to develop after being forced into the lineup last year."
Previous to this, the 49ers' quarterbacks ranked 31st out of 32 teams. Their defensive front-seven ranked 23rd, the offensive line ranked 26th, the group of running backs ranked 18th, and the wide receivers ranked second-to-last in the NFL at number 31.
The 49ers kick off training camp on July 30 and open the 2016 season against the Los Angeles Rams on September 12 at Levi's Stadium.