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Top 10 Defensive Player Developments to Track in 2019

It's easy to give up on players that you're not around all the time, but perhaps we need to allow a little more time for potential returns on the investments the team has made on young talent. Often times we get upset that certain positions weren't addressed in the draft, but in many cases it's due to a lack of patience with player development. I'm as guilty as the next person of this as well. We aren't there with the coaches every day, so we can't see everything, and with that said, perhaps there is something positive we just can't see that the coaches are banking on in the future. I could see this being the case with several of the names I'll mention below. Let's get started -- here's my top 10 defensive players to track the development of in 2019.

1. DT Solomon Thomas
Everyone wants to see how he'll turn out with guys like Bucker, Bosa, and Ford eating up double teams on the inside and outside. He is an undeniably superior athlete to Arik Armstead, and if he can't beat him out to get substantial playing time in the nickel D, it would be a colossal disappointment. With another year of development under his belt, a move inside, and that massive upgrade of talent around him allowing more one-on-one match-ups, there is absolutely no excuse for Thomas to underperform in 2019.

2. NT D.J. Jones
Proved rather quickly that he was much better than Earl Mitchell. It's not loud yet, but there was some buzz last year about this kid. He looked really promising and with that stellar play, has earned his chance to show what he can do as a full-time starter. We'll see how it goes.

3. FS Adrian Colbert
An elite single-high safety is critical for this defensive scheme. Colbert looked like he was headed in that direction in 2017 but plummeted down to earth in 2018, constantly being out of position and far too frequently failing to execute the very basic "deeper than the deepest" concept. Jimmie Ward has no business starting, but if Colbert can't reclaim his 2017 form and Ward is healthy, that's likely what we'll be stuck with. Let's hope he's learned from his mistakes last year.

4. CB Ahkello Witherspoon
Witherspoon is a player many fans have given up on already or are very close to doing so. He took a big step back in 2018 like Colbert, and while coverage was decent sometimes, he got bullied in the run game and often took extremely costly penalties at the worst times. Most assume he will not beat out a healthy Verrett, or even the high-upside Tarvarius Moore, who arguably outplayed him in limited action. If he doesn't improve, I wouldn't be surprised to see him dangled on the trade market.

5. SLB Pita Taumoepenu
He's managed to stick around and enter a 3rd year here. Do they see him finally earning a spot at SAM? Could this be the reason we did not draft one? Perhaps he's taking the Mark Nzeocha route where he develops in the background for a while before finally getting PT and doing something. Gotta be a reason he's still here, right?

6. CB Tarvarius Moore
While he played admirably, he looked like a player playing out of position (shocker). We saw the rawness, but we also saw some playmaking ability and a strong "game sense" or football IQ, if you will. I still believe he might be the best single high FS we have on the roster, but time will tell if the coaching staff will ever give him a chance to show whether or not he can be that guy in that position.

7. MLB Fred Warner
Warner had a rock solid 2018. He was strong in coverage and good against the run, generally proving to be one of the more secure tacklers on the team. On the downside, he didn't offer much in terms of pass rush and outside of the brilliant forced fumble in game 1, just wasn't a part of many flashy plays. Communication issues plagued the team for much of the year and many believe it had to do with Warner, a rookie, handling the radio calls. Will this be remedied now that he's been here a year? Overall, he simply did his job in 2018. How much can he build on that and can he become a more dynamic player going forward? Will the improvements on the DL lead to more opportunities for sacks and interceptions? Time will tell.

8. SS Marcell Harris
Harris is a kid who, in my opinion, flashed starter qualities when he got the chance for extended playing time. In limited action, he flashed instincts, hitting ability, and a playmaking sense that I thought the defense really lacked last year. His negative plays can heavily be attributed to a simple lack of experience. If Tartt gets hurt again, I would not be shocked to see Harris find a way to cement himself as the starter for 2020 and beyond.

9. WLB Elijah Lee
While his athleticism flashed, so did a horrendous lack of discipline and poor tackling. While fairly decent in coverage when he played the play right, Lee frequently blew assignments and allowed himself to get caught out of position or lose track of his responsibilities on plays. Can he beat out Malcolm Smith and/or newcomer Dre Greenlaw? Between Lee and Greenlaw, it may very well come down to who is the better special teams player.

10. CB D.J. Reed
Reed showcased nice kick return ability, but the fumbles were absolutely killer. He couldn't hang on to the dang ball and was stripped (no pun intended) of those responsibilities because of that. Like Moore, he looked like he was playing out of position (shocker), and that's because he was. One of the most headscratching decisions of 2018 was asking to play safety -- a position he's never played -- and he looked absolutely horrible back there. Short, limited range, and no safety experience are everything you DON'T WANT when you're looking for a guy to play single high FS. Lo and behold, when he got to play nickel CB after Williams got hurt, he played fairly well. If the team will just stop stunting his and others' growth and play them in their natural positions, that would go a long way in helping develop the guys we've invested resources in, and do a lot more to shore up depth in our areas of need. It seems at least going into 2019, the team realizes this, and it appears he will be focusing on playing corner this year.
[ Edited by OnTheClock on May 9, 2019 at 9:58 AM ]
1. I'm interested to see how Kocurek handles Buckner, Armstead, and Thomas. I think even Buckner has more unscratched potential.

3, 6, 10. I wonder if Woods will shake up the positions. Seems like previous staffs were plugging guys in where needed.

7. I'm leaning towards Warner being the smart and reliable guy. But, he could go next level if he juices up.
Street is the guy I'm gonna be following this year. My hope is that he can be a better version of Tank Carradine.
Witherspoon played better towards the end of the year so hopefully he can use that as a stepping stone and take the next step. I'm excited for all of those guys in the list.
Originally posted by Waterbear:
Street is the guy I'm gonna be following this year. My hope is that he can be a better version of Tank Carradine.

Really looking forward to seeing what he can do as well. I didn't include him in this list because he's still essentially a first year player. For this list, the criteria was they had to be a 2nd or 3rd year player with at least one year of some previous regular season action under their belt.


Originally posted by zonkers:
1. I'm interested to see how Kocurek handles Buckner, Armstead, and Thomas. I think even Buckner has more unscratched potential.

3, 6, 10. I wonder if Woods will shake up the positions. Seems like previous staffs were plugging guys in where needed.

7. I'm leaning towards Warner being the smart and reliable guy. But, he could go next level if he juices up.

That's a great point/observation. I kind of hope Woods sees what we see and pounds the table for Moore to move to FS, especially if that group falters. It would bolster that group without really hurting the CB group at all, assuming the majority are healthy to start the season.
Originally posted by miked1978:
Witherspoon played better towards the end of the year so hopefully he can use that as a stepping stone and take the next step. I'm excited for all of those guys in the list.

It's tough to gauge Moore too. When Spoon went down Moore had to step in and play the RCB which came out later he hadn't even practiced at before. Had been working primarily behind Sherm.
Originally posted by walker807:
Originally posted by miked1978:
Witherspoon played better towards the end of the year so hopefully he can use that as a stepping stone and take the next step. I'm excited for all of those guys in the list.

It's tough to gauge Moore too. When Spoon went down Moore had to step in and play the RCB which came out later he hadn't even practiced at before. Had been working primarily behind Sherm.

Last season was a mess. Team showed no faith in Moore or Reed, instead opting to put Mabin out there who got repeatedly roasted for critical first downs. While I didn't mention Emmanuel Moseley in my list, I thought he did well in the pre-season and was disappointed when he literally got hurt on the first STs play of the game when he was brought up from the PS. If there are injuries to others this year, Moseley could be a depth option for slot corner.
Originally posted by OnTheClock:
Originally posted by zonkers:
1. I'm interested to see how Kocurek handles Buckner, Armstead, and Thomas. I think even Buckner has more unscratched potential.

3, 6, 10. I wonder if Woods will shake up the positions. Seems like previous staffs were plugging guys in where needed.

7. I'm leaning towards Warner being the smart and reliable guy. But, he could go next level if he juices up.

That's a great point/observation. I kind of hope Woods sees what we see and pounds the table for Moore to move to FS, especially if that group falters. It would bolster that group without really hurting the CB group at all, assuming the majority are healthy to start the season.

Also IIRC the thought was that Colbert was drafted to be a CB project. He was uneventful as a career FS at Texas, then tried CB at the U and flashed some athleticism. After injuries to the depth chart in 17, he flashed at FS and never looked back (no pun intended). Not sure if that was the original plan.
Hopefully the coaching staff stops mismanaging these players by playing them out of position, constantly moving them around, or benching them every time they have a bad series.
Originally posted by KittleSkittle:
Hopefully the coaching staff stops mismanaging these players by playing them out of position, constantly moving them around, or benching them every time they have a bad series.

Ya I really hope they give Reed another chance at KR. He was amazing in college at returning which is why I put him in a lot of my mock drafts that year.

Count me as one of the given up on Spoon. I think he'll be buried in the depth chart, traded or cut.
Originally posted by Waterbear:
Originally posted by KittleSkittle:
Hopefully the coaching staff stops mismanaging these players by playing them out of position, constantly moving them around, or benching them every time they have a bad series.

Ya I really hope they give Reed another chance at KR. He was amazing in college at returning which is why I put him in a lot of my mock drafts that year.

That'll be interesting to see. Samuel, James, and Mostert all have KR ability. Likewise, Mostert, Pettis, James, and Trent Taylor can also catch punts.
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I have a soft spot for Pita. I hope he shows enough to crack the 53. Like OTC said, can he make it as backup linebacker. I hope so. I think he has the talent for it and also give you some pass rush and blitzing ability. We shall see.
Nice list OTC, and after rereading it twice, i can see a repeating thread....it looks like all, (or most) showed some promise and then fell off. What would do that, or why? I think the answer is already evident. Coaching. DB coaching. It looks like, virtually all, if you take their progress to a certain point....look like they plateaued and then fell off.

Lousy or inadequate, or really poor D coaching could be the single answer here. That is why the Woods and then Kocurek hires to me are so big. Because it looks like all these guys (maybe with exception of Solomon) got to a point and then they just couldn't progress from there.

Now either we drafted or FAed a bunch of guys who looked good at the start, and then petered out...or we had DL and DB coaches who weren't worth a hang. And that is where i think we are on D. Got rid of really bad DB and DL coaches and greatly upgraded. Add that to a green, DC, who was just overwhemed (Peter principled), and you have our D from 2018.

I think the two coaches that we jettisoned, were terrible choices and put together with a good guy who is/was grossly inexperienced at DC, gave us the awful D we had to watch all last yr. It still remains a mystery why kyle didn't upgrade DC, but no doubt he sure likes Saleh. Actually I do too...but wish he were more experienced.

This may sound odd, but i think this was by design, because in the end, Kyle wants to be like GOATs BW And BB...both of whom were good enough to be their own DCs. In BB's case he was a DC who worked his way up to become his own OC. The point remains the same. Kyle wants to be his own DC, and Saleh was a good way to make that happen. Saleh is also a hard working guy, whose expertise is really LBs. And kyle can actually be his own DC with saleh on board.

I could be completely wrong on this, but have thot it for some time.
Good stuff. Pita will be the only one not here come the final 53.
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