Ji’Ayir Brown

49ers S Talanoa Hufanga Suffers Torn ACL

NOVEMBER 20: Shanahan confirmed on Monday that Hufanga did indeed tear his ACL. His third season with the team – one in which he appeared to be on his way to a second straight Pro Bowl nod – is over as a result. San Francisco’s secondary will be significantly shorthanded for the rest of the campaign.

NOVEMBER 19: It’s safe to say the 49ers have rebounded strongly from their three-game losing streak with two straight wins as they’ve continued to get healthy. That march towards perfect health will take a step back, though, as it looks like San Francisco will be without starting safety Talanoa Hufanga for the remainder of season, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN. Head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters that Hufanga “most likely” suffered an ACL injury, per Jake Hutchinson of KNBR.

Hufanga has quietly become one of the league’s top safeties. After a quiet start to his rookie year as a fifth-round pick, Hufanga found playing time filling in for an injured Jaquiski Tartt in the middle of the season. After that, the 49ers staff got creative in trying to fit Hufanga into more packages for the rest of the year. When Tartt’s contract expired at the end of the season, San Francisco decided to invest a bit more in the youthful option out of USC.

Hufanga became a starter in his sophomore season and exploded onto the scene. During a season in which he demonstrated his physicality with nearly 100 tackles, two sacks, five tackles for loss, three quarterback hits, and two forced fumbles, Hufanga showed his true range as a safety with nine passes defensed and four interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown, as well. He was rewarded for his efforts with a Pro Bowl and First-Team All-Pro selection.

So far this year, Hufanga has continued his stellar play. Before falling to injury today, he was well on track to match or exceed his tackle-total from last year and could’ve surpassed last year’s four-interception performance with three already and seven games to go. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) even noted an improvement in Hufanga’s game this season, rating him as the league’s 13th best safety after ranking him at 23 last year.

With Hufanga out today, the 49ers relied on a two-man front to replace him in Ji’Ayir Brown and George Odum. Odum had gotten more run than Brown so far this season, but Brown put up such a stellar performance in the team’s win over the Buccaneers today that a bigger role could be in the works for the third-round rookie out of Penn State. Given his most playing time of the year, Brown was all over the field with four tackles, three passes defensed, and his first career interception. If Brown continues to play like that, the 49ers should feel pretty good lining him up next to Tashaun Gipson as a starter. If not, a rotation with Odum, a veteran with some starting experience, could ensue.

This isn’t Hufanga’s first time suffering a season-ending injury as a broken collarbone ended his freshman year with the Trojans. An ACL tear is a different monster, though. Hopefully, the young All-Pro will prove his resilience with a relatively quick recovery from what seems to be a season-ending injury.

49ers Finish Draft Class Deals

Without a first- or second-round pick in this year’s draft, the 49ers did not have an especially challenging task of rounding out their draft class signings. They cleared that low bar Friday, signing six draftees to their four-year rookie deals.

San Francisco agreed to terms with third-round safety Ji’Ayir Brown, third-round tight end Cameron Latu, sixth-round cornerback Dee Winters, seventh-round tight end Brayden Willis, seventh-round wide receiver Ronnie Bell and seventh-round linebacker Jalen Graham. The team began its rookie minicamp Friday, joining many other teams in this regard.

The two tight ends hail from Alabama and Oklahoma, respectively, with Latu arriving at pick No. 101, which the NFL gave to the 49ers as compensation for the Dolphins hiring Mike McDaniel as head coach in 2022. Willis stands to have a better path toward the 49ers’ 53-man roster as a result of 2022 backup Tyler Kroft joining McDaniels’ team earlier this week. Willis caught 39 passes for 514 yards for the Sooners as a senior. Fourth-year tight end Charlie Woerner resides as George Kittle‘s top veteran backup, though veteran Ross Dwelley remains on the team’s roster as well.

Brown came off the board to the 49ers with their first pick this year. The team moved up (via the Vikings) from No. 102 to select the Penn State product. Brown totaled 10 interceptions between the 2021 and ’22 seasons with the Nittany Lions, and the JUCO transfer added 4.5 sacks as a senior. He joins a 49ers team that lost Jimmie Ward in free agency. Scouts Inc. graded Brown as this year’s No. 67 overall prospect.

The 49ers have generated some production from recent seventh-round receiver draftee Jauan Jennings, whom they retained via an ERFA tender this offseason. Bell played five seasons at Michigan, finishing with 889 receiving yards as a senior. The 49ers traded their 2023 first-rounder to move up for Trey Lance two years ago and dealt their second-rounder in the Christian McCaffrey swap last year. Here is San Francisco’s 2023 draft class:

Round 3, No. 87 (from Vikings): Ji’Ayir Brown, S (Penn State) (signed)
Round 3, No. 99: Jake Moody, K (Michigan) (signed)
Round 3, No. 101: Cameron Latu, TE (Alabama) (signed)
Round 5, No. 155 (from Dolphins): Darrell Luter Jr., CB (South Alabama) (signed)
Round 5, No. 173: Robert Beal Jr., DE (Georgia) (signed)
Round 6, No. 216: Dee Winters, LB (TCU) (signed)
Round 7, No. 247: Brayden Willis, TE (Oklahoma) (signed)
Round 7, No. 253: Ronnie Bell, WR (Michigan) (signed)
Round 7, No. 255: Jalen Graham, LB (Purdue) (signed)