49ers review: Defensive backs

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49ers review: Defensive backs

PROGRAMMINGALERT: Tune into the debut of the 49ers Season Review show Wednesday on CSNBay Area at 6:30 p.m..

This is the first installment of a nine-part series that reviews every 49ers player and position group.The defensive backfield was expected to be a weak link of the 49ers. But this unit was sound throughout the season. The 49ers' defense surrendered 20 touchdown passes during the regular season while recording 23 interceptions. All but one of the 49ers' interceptions came from the secondary. The 49ers' pass defense was fifth-best in the NFL with an opponent passer rating of 73.6. After some injuries early in the season might have led to some big plays allowed, the 49ers started the same four defensive backs for the final 12 games of the season. Grade: A-Carlos Rogers -- A year ago, Rogers expected to be paid like one of the top cornerbacks in the league. But while Nnamdi Asomugha (five years, 60 million) and Johnathan Joseph (five years, 48.75 million) got the money they desired, Rogers did not get the kind of multi-year deal he sought. He settled for a one-year, 4.25 million contract with the 49ers and turned in the best season of his seven-year career. He has always been a good cover man, but he entered the year with a reputation for skillet hands. He had just seven interceptions in 82 career games. This season, his ability to catch the football was never questioned. He recorded six picks and earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl. Rogers also had the difficult assignment on third downs of covering the slot receiver. He had difficulty in the final game keeping up with the New York Giants' Victor Cruz in the first two quarters, but he held him to two catches for 17 yards after halftime. Now, he'll be looking for the security of a long-term contract that he did not get a year ago.Tarell Brown -- Brown saw his draft stock plummet amid concerns he was a character risk. The 49ers selected him in the fifth round of the 2007 draft, and he has not emitted one negative vibe. And, this season, Brown made a major contribution on the field. He finally earned the starting job at the beginning of the season, and he held it all the way through. He recorded four interceptions and generally did a good job at right cornerback. At 27 years old, Brown figures to be a starter at least through the 2013 season, when his contract is set to expire.Dashon Goldson -- The 49ers and Goldson could not come together on a long-term deal in free agency last year. Fortunately for the 49ers, the New England Patriots didn't offer him what he wanted after a visit there, either. So Goldson returned to the 49ers on a one-year deal. He missed the first two games with a knee injury. But when he got healthy, Goldson made a lot of plays for the 49ers' big-play defense. He tied Rogers for team-high honors with six interceptions. He added another interception of Drew Brees in the playoffs. He gave up a few plays in coverage, but he more than made up for it and earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl.Donte Whitner -- He committed to the Cincinnati Bengals in free agency, but changed his mind to sign a three-year, 11.25 million contract with the 49ers. He fit in perfectly with the 49ers, quickly becoming the quarterback of the secondary. Whitner and Goldson meshed well as a tandem, with Whitner being used more in the box for run support while Goldson played center field. Whitner single-handedly changed the tone of the playoff game against New Orleans with his legal helmet-to-helmet hit on running back Pierre Thomas on the opening drive that caused a fumble and knocked Thomas out of the game.Chris Culliver -- Considering he mostly played safety in college, Culliver made a pretty smooth transition to cornerback in the NFL. He eased into the action in the fourth game and took over the role as the 49ers' third cornerback for the final 12 games. Teams targeted him on third downs a fair amount of the time, but Culliver was never a liability. The 49ers believe with a full offseason program to get better and tighten up his technique, he would be ready for a starting role in 2012.Reggie Smith -- He got off to a good start in training camp, but he sustained a major setback when he underwent surgery to repair torn knee cartilage. He was not up to speed early in the season when he saw significant playing time in the first five games of the season. He had an interception late against Cincinnati that helped nail down that victory. For the remainder of the season, he saw little play time as the 49ers' sixth defensive back. An unrestricted-free-agent-to-be, Smith will look for a better opportunity elsewhere.Tramaine Brock -- The second-year pro began the season as the No. 3 cornerback but sustained a broken hand in the second game, underwent surgery and did not have much of a role on defense the rest of the season. He was pressed into service in the NFC Championship Game and gave Mario Manningham too much of the inside on a 17-yard TD pass that came on a third-and-15 play in the fourth quarter. He'll have a chance next season to earn a bigger role on defense.C.J. Spillman -- He might be the 49ers' best special-teams player. And as a restricted free agent, it's possible another team will want to sign him. But he also might have added value to the 49ers next season on defense as a reserve safety. Spillman did a very fine job as part of the 49ers' goal-line package. His best play on defense was his tackle of Baltimore's Ray Rice for a 4-yard loss on a second-and-goal from the 1-yard line on Thanksgiving to help keep alive the 49ers' streak of not allowing a rushing touchdown to open the season.Madieu Williams -- He started three games early after injuries sidelined Goldson and Whitner. But after the first four games, the eight-year veteran did not play a role in defense the rest of the season. He played some on special teams.Shawntae Spencer -- A presumptive starter when training camp opened, Spencer sustained two hamstring injuries in training camp that derailed his season. When he finally got on the field against Philadelphia in Week 4, he sustained a turf-toe injury. When he played, he did just fine. But he suited up for just nine games this season. He was a healthy scratch for both playoff games. With a scheduled salary of 3.2 million in 2012, Spencer will be released.Colin Jones -- He saw one snap from scrimmage all season, and that was on offense as a wide receiver. Drafted solely for his play on special teams, it took Jones a while to look comfortable. He seemed out of control on the coverage team early in the season. At the end of the year, however, he was a force on kickoff and punt coverage.Curtis Holcomb -- A seventh-round draft pick, Holcomb's season ended before it began. He sustained a ruptured left Achilles tendon during conditioning on July 28, and spent the entire season on injured reserve. He should be healthy and able to compete for a job this summer.

49ers trade up, select QB C.J. Beathard in third round of 2017 NFL Draft

49ers trade up, select QB C.J. Beathard in third round of 2017 NFL Draft

C.J. BEATHARD
Position: Quarterback
College: Iowa
Height: 6-2
Weight: 219
Selection: Third round, No. 104 overall

SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers traded back into the end of the third round to select a quarterback to join Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley on the 49ers' roster.

General manager John Lynch's fourth trade of the draft netted the team the grandson of legendary NFL personnel man Bobby Beathard. His grandson, C.J., joins the 49ers after a four-year career at Iowa. Beathard completed 58.6 percent of his passes last season with 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Beathard was not generally expected to be chosen within the first two days of the draft. He was the sixth quarterback selected, falling behind Mitch Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Deshone Kizer and Davis Webb.

"They won't regret it," Beathard said on a conference call with the Bay Area media.

The 49ers traded up with the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings had the No. 104 pick, and called the 49ers to see if they were interested in a trade. After some consideration, the 49ers decided to move up from No. 109 while also giving the Vikings a seventh-round pick at No. 219.

"Might he have been there at 109? That’s what we had to weigh," 49ers John Lynch said. "But at the end of the day, we felt like it was worth it to be able to go to bed knowing that we had a player that we liked and want the opportunity develop at the quarterback position."

And that's what coach Kyle Shanahan plans on doing. He said Beathard is not coming to the team this season to compete with Hoyer for the starting job.

"We’re bringing him in here to develop him and give him a chance, but just like any other position, everyone competes," Shanahan said. "Brian is our starting quarterback and, right now, Matt Barkley is our second. And I look at him to come in and be our third with us only having three on the roster.

"By no means did we come into this draft thinking we’re going to get a guy to compete with Brian."

Shanahan said Beathard and Pitt quarterback Nathan Peterman were the two quarterbacks in the draft who ran offenses in college most similar to the offense he will install with the 49ers.

"One thing that helps is being able to see guys play the way you’re going to ask them to play," Shanahan said. "It helps being at Iowa and watching the system he’s in. It’s easier to see to watch him over the years. He’s a three-year starter. He’s led his team to a bunch of wins, especially in 2015 when they had a better team and he played unbelievable."

As a junior at Iowa, Beathard completed 61.6 percent of his pass attempts for 2,809 yards with 17 touchdowns and five interceptions. 

"He’s a leader. He’s tough. He processes very well," Shanahan said. "He's extremely accurate and he lives and dies football."

49ers select CB Ahkello Witherspoon in third round of the 2017 NFL Draft

49ers select CB Ahkello Witherspoon in third round of the 2017 NFL Draft

AHKELLO WITHERSPOON
Position: Cornerback
College: Colorado
Height: 6-2 3/4
Weight: 193
Selection: Third round, No. 66 overall

SANTA CLARA – The 49ers selected Colorado cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, a Sacramento native, in the third round of the NFL draft with the No. 66 overall pick.

“Being close to home is an incredible opportunity, as well as the type of defense they play -- press man, up in your face,” Witherspoon said. “When I came in for a visit, they were asking me if I’ve adopted that role and if I’d be willing to continue that. And I said, ‘Absolutely.’

“It’s an opportunity to play for such a great organization, close to home, with such a savvy defensive mentality. I think it’s going to be a great place for me.”

The 49ers were also scheduled to have the next pick, but traded the selection at No. 67 for the New Orleans Saints’ second-round pick in next year’s draft, as well as a seventh-round selection (No. 229 overall) this year. The 49ers now have 10 picks in next year’s draft.

The Saints used that pick at No. 67 to select Tennessee running back Alvin Kamara.

Witherspoon began his college career at Sacramento City. He played his final three college seasons at Colorado. He started 12 games last season and earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors.

Witherspoon led the nation with 22 pass breakups. He recorded one interception -- a game-saving pick in the end zone to preserve a 41-38 victory over Oregon. A pre-med student majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology, he said he aspires to be a doctor after his football career.

But Witherspoon said he is committed to football and promised the 49ers during his visit to Santa Clara that he will make huge strides over the next few years as he continues to develop as a player.