49ers DBs Eric Reid Nnamdi AsomughaEric Reid is in an elite class. Since 2002, only 18 safeties have been drafted in the first round. Three of those were from this year’s class: Kenny Vaccaro, Reid and Matt Elam. Here’s a look at all of the starting safeties drafted in the first round from 2002 to 2012:

2010:

  • Eric Berry (5th overall, Kansas City Chiefs)
  • Earl Thomas (14th overall, Seattle Seahawks)

2008:

  • Kenny Phillips (31st overall, New York Giants)

2007:

  • LaRon Landry (6th overall, Washington Redskins)
  • Michael Griffin (19th overall, Tennessee Titans)
  • Reggie Nelson (21st overall, Jacksonville Jaguars)
  • Brandon Meriweather (24th overall, New England Patriots)

2006:

  • Michael Huff (7th overall, Oakland Raiders)
  • Donte Whitner (8th overall, Buffalo Bills)
  • Jason Allen (16th overall, Miami Dolphins)

2004:

  • Sean Taylor (5th overall, Washington Redskins)

2003:

  • Troy Polamalu (16th overall, Pittsburgh Steelers)

2002:

  • Roy Williams (8th overall, Dallas Cowboys)
  • Ed Reed (24th overall, Baltimore Ravens)

Given the 49ers’ dire need in the defensive backfield (unless you’re interested in seeing Craig Dahl start), I figured I’d take a look at how these 15 first-round safeties fared in their rookie seasons.

Donte Whitner San Francisco 49ersFirst, I was interested in how much playing time they saw, and if history holds true in Reid’s case, he should see plenty of action this year.  Taylor and  Whitner were the only safeties who didn’t play every game of their rookie season, and they both only missed one game. However, it appears some did more substituting in the rookie season.

Allen, for example, only netted 20 combined tackles in the 16 games he played. Polamalu only registered 38 combined tackles. Meriweather also appears to have been eased into the action with only 27 combined tackles. Griffin was the leader of this substitution group, collecting 54 combined tackles and three interceptions in his rookie season.

The first-round safeties that got thrown into mix completely fared considerably well. Here are some of the top performers:

  • Earl Thomas — 76 combined tackles, 64 solo tackles, 0 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 5 interceptions
  • LaRon Landry — 95 combined tackles, 63 solo tackles, 1.5 sacks
  • Michael Huff — 78 combined tackles, 67 solo tackles, 1 interception
  • Sean Taylor — 76 combined tackles, 60 solo tackles, 1 sack, 2 forced fumbles, 4 interceptions
  • Eric Berry — 92 combined tackles, 77 solo tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 4 interceptions
  • Roy Williams — 99 combined tackles, 88 solo tackles, 2 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 5 interceptions
  • Ed Reed — 85 combined tackles, 71 solo tackles, 1 sack, 5 interceptions
  • Donte Whitner — 104 combined tackles, 67 solo tackles, 1 interception

Because Pro Football Focus only offers performance analysis back to 2008, their scores for most of these players’ rookie seasons were unavailable. However, the three who qualified all scored positively overall.

  • Eric Berry — +11 overall, +5.0 run defense, +4.0 pass rush +2.0 pass coverage
  • Earl Thomas — +3.8 overall, +3.9 run defense, +2.2 pass rush, -2.5 pass coverage
  • Kenny Phillips — +4.2 overall, +4.4 run defense, 0.0 pass rush, 0.2 pass coverage

Obviously, safeties aren’t a highly coveted position in the first round of the draft. If a team drafts a safety in the first 32 picks, it’s usually because the position has an immediate need. This is certainly true in the 49ers case. The list you see here has a few average players, but for the most part, teams who have drafted safeties with their first pick in the last 10 years have made a solid choice. Judging by both the production and the PFF ratings, a safety’s transition from college to the NFL can be seamless, with the highest learning curve landing in pass coverage.

If history is any indicator, the 49ers should have their starting free safety in Reid, and — save a few hiccups in coverage — he should be highly productive in 2013.