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Breaking down top defensive backs in 2019 free agent class



© Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The 49ers bet big on a young, mostly inexperienced secondary in 2018. Things didn’t go as planned.

Their core of young players, riding excellent finishes to the 2017 season, failed to parlay that momentum into a solid 2018. It wasn’t until the final weeks of the season that the 49ers built some continuity on the back end.

Richard Sherman was the exception. Last March, the 49ers signed Sherman, a 30-year-old coming off Achilles surgery, and he resembled the same shutdown corner of yesteryear with Seattle.

The 49ers’ 2018 secondary may always be remembered for an unfortunate tag — their two interceptions are the fewest in NFL history. The 2005 Raiders are the only other team to go an entire season without their cornerbacks recording an interception. The 49ers forced seven turnovers in 2018, also an all-time NFL low.

The 49ers, entering Sunday with about $66 million in cap space, have reportedly looked into adding a veteran cornerback to pair opposite Sherman. Let’s look at the remaining available defensive backs in a strong free agent class.


Earl Thomas, free safety

Age: 30

2018 stats (four games): 22 tackles, three interceptions

Thomas checks all the boxes. He is a future Hall-of-Famer, close friends with Sherman, and the prototypical free safety position in San Francisco’s 4-3 defense.

Thomas reportedly wants a two-year contract worth $30 million. That’s doable for the 49ers. And with the news of Tyrann Mathieu’s three-year, $42 million deal with the Chiefs inflating the market, Thomas is likely to get his wish.

Tre Boston, free/strong safety

Age: 26

2018 stats: 79 tackles, nine passes defended, three interceptions

Boston fell victim to what he called a “soft” safety market in 2018. The Arizona Cardinals eventually signed him to a one-year deal just days before training camp started, and he earned his paycheck.

Boston tallied three interceptions and nine passes defended in 2018. He’s a versatile option who can play both safety spots.


Pierre Desir

Age: 28

Measurables: 6-foot-1 with 33-inch arms.

2018 stats: 79 tackles, one interception, and eight passes defended.

The 49ers have already expressed interest in Desir, according to The Athletic‘s Matt Barrows.

Desir is the most intriguing cornerback free agent who fits the physical prototype for 49ers’ cornerbacks. While he struggled to take off throughout his early NFL years, Desir played the best football of his career, ranking as Pro Football Focus’ No. 18 cornerback, with Indianapolis in 2018. He totaled 79 tackles, one interception, and eight passes defended.

Desir, who made just $1.75 million in 2018, is in line for a much larger payday.

Bradley Roby

Age: 26

Measurables: 5-foot-11, 31 ½-inch arms

2018 stats: 50 tackles, 12 passes defended, one interception

The 49ers are reportedly one of six teams that have expressed interest in Roby, according to the NFL Network’s James Palmer.

After waiting behind Aqib Talib and Chris Harris for his chance to be a full-time starter, Roby struggled in 2018. He allowed completions on nearly 66 percent of targets. He ranked as PFF’s No. 97 overall cornerback.

Ronald Darby

Projected market value: $13.4 million/year

Age: 25

2018 stats (nine games): 43 tackles, 12 passes defended, one interception

Measurables: 5-foot-11, 31 3/8-inch arms

Darby was excellent through Philadelphia’s Super Bowl run last year, allowing a 53.7 catch rate, according to PFF. His 2018 season ended in mid-November due to a torn ACL.

There are injury concerns with Darby, who missed 15 games throughout the past two seasons. But the 25-year-old is one of the most talented young corners in the NFL.