Former CFL DB Chris Edwards Could Provide 49ers a Quality Strong Safety
While the practice squad is a common path for NFL hopefuls, time in the Canadian Football League has proved fruitful for some. Raiders safety Erik Harris is just one recent example of turning a successful CFL run into an NFL career.
One player looking to follow in Harris’ footsteps is former CFL safety, and current 49er, Chris Edwards. After a brief preseason stay with the Raiders in 2016, Edwards was released that August. He needed to improve his overall game, and seemingly did that in Canada.
The former Edmonton Eskimo and BC Lion defensive back totaled 112 tackles, four interceptions, four forced fumbles and a touchdown over three seasons in Canada. If Edwards can prove his production wasn’t a fluke, he could find himself on an NFL roster this fall.
Edwards enters a crowded safety room with very little regular season defensive snaps up for grabs. Yet, with Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt both locked into the starting lineup, and having an extensive injury history, preseason opportunities should be plentiful.
Tarvarius Moore, D.J. Reed Jr., Marcell Harris, Derrick Kindred and Jared Mayden are all competing with Edwards for those final two-to-three roster spots. Despite the high-volume of safeties on the roster, the 49ers are rather thin at strong (box) safety.
As noted in the Kindred breakdown last week, Moore and Harris are free safeties. When Tartt was injured last season, Ward moved from free to strong safety and Harris played up top. Moore and Reed are both former corners who profile as free safeties.
This presents the opportunity for the roster-bubble box safeties (Kindred, Mayden and Edwards), to get plenty of time on the field this preseason.
While sharing a lot of duties in zone coverage, strong and free safeties have their own responsibilities in run and short-yardage situations. The box safety is often leaned on to defend the run. They inch up closer to the linebackers to either take on a tight end, or go after the ball-carrier, while the free safety maintains the deep part of the field.
Now this doesn’t mean free and strong safeties can’t perform other duties. Ward’s proficiency in tackling made the transition from free to strong fairly smooth. But by finding a more traditional box safety to fill in for Tartt, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh can utilize his three talented free safeties in more comfortable roles.
Edwards, who also played linebacker at the University of Idaho (2014-15), has the size (6’2, 215) necessary to succeed closer to the line of scrimmage. He’s a physical tackler and has the ball skills (eight forced turnovers in three CFL seasons) to succeed in both run and pass defense.
Even if he doesn’t leapfrog Ward as the top reserve strong safety, Edwards would still be a quality special teamer. With Raheem Mostert likely starting at running back, the 49ers must revamp their special teams. Mostert was the team’s best gunner. They might not be able to replace his production one-for-one, but having more athletic, experienced tacklers like Edwards would be the best way to start.
If Edwards can separate himself from the rest, it would further insure the 49ers’ talented defensive backfield against injury.