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Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

Rookie safety Leon O’Neal Jr. says 49ers getting an ‘enforcer,’ vows to prove doubters wrong

May 1, 2022 at 5:18 PM--

NFL.com projected safety Leon O'Neal Jr. to be a sixth-round pick or a priority free agent. The young defender hoped to hear his name called during the three-day extravaganza that is the NFL Draft. He didn't, which means he got to choose his destination. The hard-hitting defensive back chose the San Francisco 49ers, signing a free-agent deal that included $60,000 total guaranteed.

"Ultimately, O'Neal fell not because of his production or film but due to a slower than anticipated 40-yard dash time of 4.63 to 4.71 seconds," wrote Aaron Wilson of Pro Football Network.

The snubbing may be enough to motivate O'Neal. The 49ers certainly hope so. The team did not select a safety with its nine draft selections, and it's an area of need with Jimmie Ward entering the final year of his contract and the 49ers' reluctance to bring back Jaquiski Tartt. O'Neal's motivation and determination to prove doubters wrong may be enough to help him latch on and thrive in Santa Clara.

"I will never, ever forget the names they called," O'Neal told Wilson. "I was projected from the fourth round to the seventh round, and for my name to not even be called at all, I wish those guys luck, but there's no chance some of them are on my level. To fall because of a misinterpreted 40-yard dash time, to see a lot of that stuff, that was interesting to me. I had a lot riding on this."

O'Neal didn't run the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. He recorded a 4.76-second time at Texas A&M's Pro Day and a 4.70-second time at his personal Pro Day, per NFLDraftBuzz.com.

"I ended up going undrafted, but it's going to be fun," O'Neal continued. "I've been playing ball at A&M for four years. I've seen the way the fans show love and support for me. That's the cool part. Now, I'm getting embraced by the 49ers fans and representing the red and gold."

O'Neal registered 58 tackles, three tackles for a loss, a sack, five passes defensed, two interceptions, and a touchdown through 12 game appearances as a senior in 2021, per Sports Reference. He recorded 161 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, a sack, 12 passes defensed, six interceptions, and a touchdown through his four collegiate seasons.

O'Neal spoke a little about what the 49ers and their fans can expect from him as a player.

"Honest to God, the first thing first is to be a great teammate to my guys," O'Neal said. "I'm highly into being a brother and being a teammate more than anything. I want to represent the 49ers the right way. That's my main goal. I'm process-oriented. My main goal is to work as hard as I possibly can, and the results happen within the work. That's how I keep my focus.

"They're getting an enforcer, a leader, a guy who's dedicated to his craft with a strong work ethic. I want to learn. I want to get better. That's the kind of guy they're getting."

The 49ers weren't the only ones competing to add O'Neal. Other teams offered him more money, but that wasn't a deciding factor.

"Everybody gets caught up in the money, but I'm more caught up in the culture and playing for a winner," O'Neal added. "I'm about stability. That's what it kept coming back to for me in choosing the 49ers."


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