49ers Sign Antoine Bethea
Bethea has been very durable for the Colts, having played every game over the last six seasons and between 97.5 percent and 99.6 percent of snaps the last four seasons. He’s a consistent tackler, finishing first among safeties in 2011, 12th in 2012 and fifth in 2013. This is further supported by a 1.9 rating as a run defender and seventh-best tackling efficiency (running and passing downs) among safeties.
Bethea is also one of the most disciplined defenders in the game. Last season, he had nary a penalty and has never finished a season with more than three to his name. The 49ers committed the 17th-most defensive penalties last season (Seattle finished 3rd and Denver 6th), with Whitner contributing five unnecessary roughness penalties himself, so a dose of composure will be welcomed in the Bay Area.
Where Bethea struggles is in coverage, particularly on the deep ball. Despite a decent two INTs and five passes deflected, his -4.9 grade in coverage was 17th-worst among safeties. He also averaged an 11th-worst 14.5 average yards per completion and a 103.1 QB Rating. Now on the wrong side of 30, it’s reasonable to think that his coverage protection will only decline from here. Contrast this to Whitner, who had the fifth-best +10.5 rating in coverage and a 66.8 QB Rating, and there is reason to expect a drop-off in the 49ers passing defense. Fortunately, San Francisco boasts one of the top front sevens in the league, so Bethea won’t be asked to do too much.
But there are other intangibles that make this a nice bargain buy. A consummate character guy who has appeared in two Super Bowls, Bethea will be asked to mentor Eric Reid. The rookie safety had a strong first season with a 4.7 overall rating, good for 14th best in the NFL. However, Reid placed a more average 33rd in tackles, while also recording the 15th-most missed tackles, so this is an area that Bethea can not only teach but also compensate for the sophomore.
Finally, don’t be surprised if the team drafts a safety with one of their 10 picks this year, and Bethea will be a great teacher of the game for the incoming rookie and willing to concede his starting spot when the time is right.
From a fantasy standpoint, Bethea goes from an ideal situation in Indy to one that will limit his fantasy ceiling. As we saw with Whitner, playing behind NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis is not conducive to strong fantasy production. We’ll still need to see how Reid and Bethea are used, but for now, neither should be considered better than a DB3 fantasy option.
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