Coming into the second week of the 2022 NFL season, the San Francisco 49ers find themselves the second most secure in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.
That’s right, although Jimmie Ward, the team’s stalwart free safety and occasional cornerback, is widely regarded as the Niners’ top talent at the back end of DeMeco Ryan’s defense when he was in IR with a hamstring injury. No, the 49ers-rated defensive end and second-best safety in the NFL is none other than Talanoa Hufanga, the Niners’ USC fifth-round pick in 2021.
Hufanga plays the strong safety spot long occupied by Jaquiski Tartt, who was selected in the 2015 second round, and ranks second out of 71 qualified safeties in coverage, the 10 31 qualifying safeties. He’s split his time fairly evenly between the box and the back end of defense and currently leads the Niners in passes defended by three, in addition to an interception in Week 1.
Joined by Tashaun Gipson, who himself ranks fourth in defense according to the PFF, Hufanga’s game has improved significantly from his rookie form and now looks like a favorite to not only stay on the field when Ward is eligible, but could form an elite a tandem that the product from northern Illinois has never heard of.
When asked about Tolbert & Copes Show on the status of Ward’s hamstring on September 2, Kyle Shanahan expressed optimism that the safety veteran would be back on the field by Week 5 when he will be eligible to return.
“I’m really hoping to get him back, I think it’s week 5, the earliest he can come back,” Shanahan told the hosts, as transcribed by NBC Sports Bay Area. “He should be able to do that, but there’s no way we want to push him back and do it again and then miss the whole year.”
“So that’s our goal, and hopefully it can come true.”
Luckily for Shanahan, the pairing of Gipson and Hufanga should be able to hold things up well until Ward can return.
Speak with Roast in the morning On 95.7 the Game on Sept. 8, Tartt was asked if he had any talks with the 49ers ahead of the 2022 NFL season and gave a very interesting response that feels a lot more interesting after two weeks of playing on the field, as transcribed by Niner’s wire.
“I mean, I spoke to the coaches, but it wasn’t official,” Tartt said. “As far as this situation is concerned, for the right price I would of course come back. But at the end of the day, if it’s not the right price, I’m definitely not going back. To me it’s only as far as what makes sense. Exposing my body to a minimum amount is like… you know.”
“I’ve made enough money. I was very fortunate to be able to play the game and to be with the 49ers for seven years. So, like I said, it’s exactly the right situation. If it was the right situation for me, I would do it. If not, I’m good where I am.”
Unfortunately for Tartt, that situation didn’t materialize in Philadelphia, as the pro missed crucial time on the field in his eighth year and never had a proper chance to start against Marcus Epps or Anthony Harris, the team’s safety tandem at the time.
“I mean, at this point in my career, it’s more about the business side of football,” Tartt said. “There’s a lot of stuff about not being able to play at a high level, but that’s the business side. When you get to the business side, it’s all about opportunity. I figured I’d get a chance in Philadelphia, but from day one, that wasn’t the case. So at the end of the day, it’s all about relaxing and feeling like the right situation is happening.”
Unfortunately for Tartt, the Niners’ depth in safety position, especially with Ward returning, makes a reunion rather unlikely.