Looking back on Adrian Colbert’s impact on Robert Saleh’s defense

With the 2017 season now over, Niners Live reflects on the performance of rookie defensive back Adrian Colbert and his impact on the new look four-man front defense.


Diamond in the Rough

Drafted in the seventh round out of Miami University, Adrian Colbert was the last player selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the 2017 NFL draft. He played cornerback and safety, but was considered a raw talent. He started the season as a core member of the special team’s units, but after injuries to free-safeties Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt, he was forced into the starting line-up. 

Colbert, 6’2 205 lbs., shined when given his opportunity. He showed the potential and upside of a high round draft pick, while adding veteran savvy to his game. His game embodies “Extreme Violence” in the run and pass game. His nickname sums it up; Punisher. He also showed superb physical toughness after breaking his thumb in week 10, having surgery on it and only missing one game.

Season Stats: 32 total tackles, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and five passes defended in six starts. Ended the season as PFF’s sixth-ranked rookie safety in 2017. He was the 23rd safety drafted. With an overall grade of 77.6, he ranked as the 46th best safety in the NFL.

Colbert’s play at free safety earned the respect from the front office, coaching staff and teammates. The coaching staff voted him the Thomas Herrion Memorial Award winner, which is given to a rookie or first-year player who has taken advantage of their opportunities, turned it into a positive situation and made their dream a reality. 

Defensive Coordinator Robert Saleh thinks highly of his single high safety. He believes the sky is the limit for the rookie.

“He’s relentless in his work ethic and his preparation, I love the way he hits. He’s a very physical football player. It’s very important to him. Every play, every rep, every meeting is very, very important. He’s very into it. He has something to prove for sure. His tracking angles in space when that ball does reach that second level. We call him the eraser, to erase all the issues that might happen in the run game. He has the ability to track in space which makes him a really good special team’s player. Now, the last part we’re trying to get to is mental. If he can get to that mental speed we feel like he might be able to be a pretty good safety. That’s the last part of it,” stated Saleh.

Reviewing Adrian Colbert’s impact on Robert Saleh’s defense

Colbert is a promising building block in Saleh’s defense. He provides versatility, attitude and relentless physicality to an up and coming defense. He has the speed and range in pass coverage to play the demanding free safety position. His hits will strike fear into opposing receivers going over the middle of the field. Ball carriers must tighten their grip when he approaches because his hits will jar the ball loose. He must work on his overall tackling technique so he doesn’t miss tackles when going for a big hit. His angles in run and pass pursuit will improve with more playing time. He has natural instincts which will improve with film study. Colbert has the physical tools and mental demeanor to be a leader for the defense for years to come. Colbert suffered an injury as previously mentioned. However, it didn’t cause him to miss numerous games. He was a surprising and positive impact on Saleh’s defense. Colbert brought consistent play at the back end of the defense while being a violent disruptor and will look to compete for the starting free safety/eraser position in 2018.

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All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.comPro Football Focus49ers.comESPN.comNFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author Jimi Payne Staff Writer at Niners live. Co- Author, Content Creator, Editor, Sequoia Sims