The 2012 NFL free agent class is littered with talented players that can make a significant impact on a team. While many general mangers will immediately look to big-name players, it’s unlikely that players of such caliber go to another city because of how much they mean to their current team. Because of this, I want to take a look at players that could potentially leave their present team for another in hopes of landing a big paycheck, and I’ll start with a look at the greatest strengths and weaknesses of San Francisco 49ers free safety Dashon Goldson.

The 27-year-old Goldson is a 6’2″, 200-pound safety that can pack a punch and is aggressive against pass catchers coming across the middle, and he can also bait the quarterback into an interception. He’s got the size to be able to stick his nose in on run plays, and the height and vertical (34.5 inches) to catch passes at their peak.

He’s a former fourth-round pick of the 49ers that played free safety, his main position, as well as some cornerback at the University of Washington. Since becoming a 49er, he has worked his way up from the bottom of the roster to become a starter. He’s started 46 out of 48 possible games in the last three years and has gotten better each season based off of what I’ve seen.

Strengths

In San Francisco this past season, Goldson played a significant amount of snaps as a split-field safety in the 49ers’ Cover 2 Man (man under) coverage concept, which requires the safety to cover half of the field and stay over the top of wide receivers.

Cover 2 Man

In this coverage, Goldson’s route recognition, athleticism and range are on display. He is forced to work over the top of routes by the outside receiver and make a play on the ball, which he does well. He is able to locate and track the ball well when it’s in the air in an effort to force a turnover.

He also shows the ability to break on the ball downhill and force an incomplete pass or a turnover when he is the single-high safety in coverage. He’s done this on numerous occasions the past few years, and he did it against the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs, when he picked off quarterback Drew Brees late in the first quarter.

On that play, the 49ers secondary showed a 2 deep coverage shell that would imply it’s going to be an even coverage (cover 2, 2 man, 4) but at the snap of the ball, Goldson rotated into the middle of the field when strong safety Donte Whitner came down, and he ended up playing zone coverage on the slot receiver who is running a post route into the middle of the field.

Once the slot receiver breaks inside into the middle of the field, Brees sees an opening and attempts to deliver a pass. However, Goldson rotates late and ends up as the single-high safety in the middle of the field, which allows him to step in front and intercept the pass — something that he’s done 11 times in the last three years.

Weaknesses

Goldson is a very bright player and understands the game well, but occasionally he’ll take a poor angle when dealing with ball carriers or space players out of the backfield and it will hurt him. When taking an angle on pass catchers across the middle of the field, for example, it’s important to take an anticipatory angle rather than a direct one.

For instance, sticking with the matchup against the Saints in the playoffs, a 44-yard touchdown scored by running back Darren Sproles was the result of a bad angle taken by Goldson.

Sproles, who aligned as an off-set back to Brees’ right, took a step to the outside with his left foot at the snap of the ball and made it appear that he was going to run an outside breaking route. However, he would quickly turn his head and body back inside and run an Angle route that saw him break inside.

Once he did this, Brees threw a lead pass and it was off to the races.

This shouldn’t have happened, and Goldson should have taken an anticipatory angle that would have placed him on the outside shoulder of Sproles and in position to make a tackle. If this was executed properly, there would have been no opportunity for yards after the catch. A similar issue occurs when Goldson is bearing down against ball carriers in space.

Overall

Goldson is likely to be the top free agent at his position when free agency starts, and for good reason.

He’s an instinctive safety that has good size and range to go with his athleticism. I expect many teams to covet him in a league that’s become far more pass-oriented, which is why he’ll likely be able to receive a big paycheck.

While his strengths bring a lot to a defense, he also has weaknesses, most notably the improper angles he takes, which can sometimes lead to big plays like Sproles’ 44-yard touchdown catch and run in the playoffs. This is something that he’ll have to improve going forward if he wants to become one of the league’s best at the position.

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