Grading the Eric Reid Selection

Coming into Thursday's first round of the draft, the consensus was the 49ers would be finding a safety in the early rounds. It was no surprise Trent Baalke used his deep pocket of draft picks to trade up and get his target player. But with such a deep safety class, was it the right move?

Eric Reid, No. 18-overall. Draft Grade: A-

There's something to be said for having a plan coming into the draft and executing it. That's exactly what the 49ers did Thursday night by trading up to get their "top-rated safety," according to Jim Harbaugh.

Whether or not Reid truly was San Francisco's No. 1 safety on their draft board, we'll never know. But on the surface, he represents everything the team was looking for in a player to add to the back end of the secondary.

Reid will come in and battle for the starting free safety job right away. But he's in the unenviable position of having to replace an All-Pro in Dashon Goldson, who appeared in back-to-back Pro Bowls before leaving to sign a five-year, $42.25 million contract with Tampa Bay.

At 6-foot-1 and 213 pounds, Reid has a very similar build to Goldson and possesses many of the same characteristics. The biggest difference? Reid was a national recruit (even by Harbaugh at Stanford) and a much more highly-touted player. And now, the 49ers get younger and significantly cheaper thanks to the new rookie pay scale.

"I have been covering Eric since high school. He's a big time safety from a great program that is LSU," said national recruiting analyst Jamie Newberg.

"This is a kid with size and speed who plays with range whether it's against the run or pass. He's very aggressive and always attacking. I also love that he seems like a guy that's always in position to make plays and around the ball. With the loss of Dashon Goldson to Tampa Bay this is a nice pick who seems like will be a great fit."

Reid was an All-American and an All-SEC selection in his junior season at LSU, but still has plenty of room to improve. He has a good build, but could still get stronger. He has good tackling technique and often leads with his shoulder instead of his head in big collisions. In his college career, Reid was very productive and made 199 total tackles (4.5 for loss), deflected 17 passes (nine his final season) and made six interceptions.

At the combine, Reid's best 40-yard dash time was very solid at 4.53. But perhaps his most impressive numbers came in vertical and broad jump, where he posted 40.5 and 134 inches, respectively. His ability to get up in the air will serve him well covering tight ends and big receivers down the field.

At times, Reid can get over aggressive and misread angles. But those are areas the 49ers' secondary coach Ed Donatell and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will look to help him improve. He will have an adjustment period and make mistakes. But growing pains are a necessary evil when developing players.

Reid will go from one of the top defenses in college football to the one of the best in the NFL. He'll benefit greatly from having Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman in front of him and Pro-Bowl strong safety Donte Whitner alongside. The newly-acquired Craig Dahl could also aid in Reid's development and start in case he isn't fully ready by opening day.

Why didn't this pick warrant an 'A' grade? A couple of reasons: First, Kenny Vaccaro was the best safety on the board and was within range if the team elected to trade a little higher up, say with the Jets at 13. Second, after the 49ers took Reid at No. 18, no safety was selected until the Ravens took Matt Elam at No. 32, one pick after their original selection. Would Reid have been available at 31? We'll never know, but if he wasn't, there would have been plenty of options there or at No. 34-overall without having to give up an extra third-round pick. But with 13 picks and not nearly enough open roster spots, the team could afford to.

Of note: Reid is the first safety Baalke has taken in the early rounds since drafting Taylor Mays 49th-overall in 2010, at the will of former head coach Mike Singletary.

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