Talanoa Hufanga

Talanoa Hufanga Targeting Week 1 Return; Ji’Ayir Brown Likely To Remain 49ers Starter

Dre Greenlaw was not the only 49ers defensive standout unavailable for the conclusion of Super Bowl LVIII; the team played the stretch run without All-Pro safety Talanoa Hufanga. The two-year starter’s late-season ACL tear leaves his status for 2024 in question.

Hufanga suffered the injury during the 49ers’ Thanksgiving win over the Seahawks. It is not certain Hufanga joins Greenlaw as starters sidelined to open the season, but the contract-year DB is still a ways away from being ready to return.

The goal is to ready by Week 1,” Hufanga said, via 49ersWebZone.com’s David Bonilla. “The goal is to be in training camp, not at the very beginning, but to ramp me up correctly, just so it’s not, ‘Throw you out there to the wolves and good luck.'”

A former fifth-round pick, Hufanga showed himself to be a difference-maker at safety during the 2022 season. He became the second 49ers safety this century, joining Dashon Goldson (2012), to earn first-team All-Pro acclaim. Hufanga, 25, profiles as an extension candidate for a 49ers team flush with those. In the secondary alone, Hufanga joins Charvarius Ward and Deommodore Lenoir as contract-year cogs. Ward is targeting a 49ers extension; Hufanga stands to be in this conversation upon return from his knee injury.

After a four-interception 2022, Hufanga picked off three passes before his injury last season. The 49ers moved third-round rookie Ji’Ayir Brown into the lineup alongside Tashaun Gipson. Although Gipson has come up as a player the 49ers would consider re-signing, the San Jose Mercury News’ Cam Inman notes Brown looks to be locked into a starting role. This would shift the conversation of a San Francisco safety addition to that player merely being a placeholder until Hufanga returns.

The 49ers signed De’Vondre Campbell for a gig like this, as the three-year Packers starter is expected to begin the season as a three-down linebacker alongside Fred Warner until Greenlaw returns. Brown moving to a level in which the 49ers feel comfortable using him as a full-timer would change the conversation at safety, and it would give the defending NFC champions a low-cost piece on a team featuring several contract situations. Brown’s rookie contract runs through 2026.

The Penn State product started five games in place of Hufanga during the regular season and was in San Francisco’s lineup for its three playoff outings. He intercepted a Patrick Mahomes pass in the Super Bowl. While Gipson started the past two seasons with the 49ers, the well-traveled veteran has played 12 seasons and is not a lock to pursue a 13th.

San Francisco drafted Malik Mustapha in the fourth round and used All-Pro special-teamer George Odum as the first-stringer alongside Brown during the offseason program. If Gipson does not want to play an age-34 season, the 49ers would have some options as veteran insurance while Hufanga rehabs. A few free agent safeties, however, probably view themselves as overqualified for a placeholder/insurance gig. While the market includes Justin Simmons, Quandre Diggs and Jamal Adams, they will likely hold out for a better opportunity. Marcus Maye and Eddie Jackson join this trio as unattached, and opportunities might be scarce come training camp. This should put the 49ers in good position to add if they choose to.

Minor NFL Transactions: 11/21/23

Today’s minor moves:

Arizona Cardinals

Baltimore Ravens

Cleveland Browns

Indianapolis Colts

Los Angeles Chargers

Miami Dolphins

Minnesota Vikings

New York Giants

San Francisco 49ers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Harrison was among the Colts’ final roster cuts in August, but he was immediately retained via the practice squad. Despite that move, the 26-year-old has yet to make an appearance in Indianapolis as a gameday elevation. He will now have the chance to make his Colts debut, having taken the 53-man roster spot of Shaquille Leonard after the latter’s surprise cut.

Muse will be required to miss at least the next four weeks as a result of the IR move. The former Seahawk has played exclusively on special teams to date during his first season with the Chargers, logging a 73% snap share in that capacity. Tom Pelissero of NFL Network reports Muse could still play later this season, something which will give Los Angeles a boost in the third phase if they are still in playoff contention down the stretch.

Ahmed’s foot injury, coupled with a new round of uncertainty regarding the healthy of rookie sensation De’Von Achane, could leave Miami shorthanded in the backfield. While it remains to be seen if the latter will miss time after coming back from an IR stint, the former will not be available moving forward. Ahmed is out for the season, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reports. The 24-year-old scored two total touchdowns on 38 touches this year, his fourth with the Dolphins. He is set to hit free agency this offseason, but the injury will no doubt hurt his market.

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 Rumors: DEs, Thomas, Hufanga

Last season, the 49ers finished the season as one of the top five teams in the league in sacks. The team was led in sacks by star defender Nick Bosa (15.5), Jaguars’ offseason addition Arden Key (6.5), Arik Armstead (6.0), and Samson Ebukam (4.5). As they turn the page towards the 2022 NFL season, San Francisco is looking at how to replace the production of Key and get a little more out of their pass rushers not named “Bosa,” according to Matt Barrows of The Athletic.

Right now, the starting defensive line likely has some combination of Javon Kinlaw, Armstead, and Bosa. Kinlaw is pretty stationary in terms of his placement on the inside of the line, as is Bosa on the edge, but Armstead and Key both were used as pass rushers from the edge and interior last season. With Key gone and Dee Ford not likely to stay with the team, according to a quote from head coach Kyle Shanahan provided by Cam Inman of 95.7 The Game, one of the favorites to fill that vacant role on the line is free agent acquisition Kerry Hyder.

Referring to Hyder as if he is new to the program is a bit misleading as he is only a year and a half removed from the last time he wore a 49ers jersey. That season in San Francisco was the best of his career as he recorded career-highs in sacks (8.5) and tackles (49) and tallied his second-highest season totals in tackles for loss (10.0) and quarterback hits (18). Hyder has experience and ability to play on the inside of the line like Armstead and Key, but his most effective seasons have seen him line up on the end, making him a prime candidate to complete the starting lineup.

Ebukam was fourth on the team in sacks but, at only 4.5, they didn’t provide quite the impact that was expected from his addition. He and Jordan Willis (who totaled 3.0 sacks last year) specialize as speed rushers that maybe don’t have the versatility to run with the first string. 2022 second-round pick Drake Jackson falls into that category, as well, but, as a rookie, he should have plenty of opportunities to make an impact on the line. Former Colts defensive end Kemoko Turay was brought in, too, but his time in Indianapolis mostly saw him playing on a rotational basis.

Charles Omenihu may be the best competition for Hyder considering that, last year, San Francisco used Omenihu in a very similar role as Key. His large frame could land him more on the inside of the line than the outside, but he claims very similar versatility as Hyder, while lacking the top-end production.

Here are a few other rumors on depth chart decisions the 49ers face this offseason, based on the spring practice breakdowns of Barrows:

  • With Jason Verrett still recovering from a torn ACL suffered last September, the 49ers brought in Charvarius Ward on a three-year free agent deal. He ran opposite Emmanuel Moseley with the ones all spring. Barrows noted that last year’s rookie, Ambry Thomas, is currently the No. 3 cornerback on the outside behind Ward and Moseley. Veteran Darqueze Dennard is the first-team unit’s nickel cornerback, though 2022 fifth-round pick Samuel Womack will push him for playing time this season. With those two occupied in the slot, Thomas becomes the team’s top backup option on the outside.
  • This offseason, the 49ers saw longtime safety Jaquiski Tartt depart in free agency. They now have a decision to make on who to pair up with Jimmie Ward in the defensive backfield. The top candidates to replace Tartt have been Talanoa Hufanga, George Odum, and Tarvarius Moore. According to Barrows, Hufanga in the clear frontrunner following spring practices. Hufanga took all of the first-team snaps at strong safety while Odum and Moore ran as the second-team strong and free safeties, respectively. Hufanga made three starts as a rookie last year and will look to make the leap to full-time starter alongside Jimmie in 2022.

49ers Rumors: Al-Shaair, Garoppolo, DBs

This will be a key year for Azeez Al-Shaair. The fourth-year linebacker is less than a year away from a possible free agency bid, and he may have an opportunity to join Fred Warner as a three-down ‘backer. With Dre Greenlaw missing much of last season due to injury, Al-Shaair stepped in as a full-timer. This season figures to determine which contract-year linebacker — Greenlaw or Al-Shaair — the 49ers aim to keep. The one that ends up playing less figures to be the cheaper option, with Matt Barrows of The Athletic noting that might be the player San Francisco attempts to retain (subscription required). Such a strategy would mesh better with Warner, who is tied to a top-market off-ball linebacker deal. A 2019 UDFA out of Florida Atlantic, Al-Shaair registered 102 tackles (nine for loss), two sacks, two fumble recoveries and an interception in 13 games last season — his first as a full-timer. Al-Shaair, however, is recovering from offseason knee and shoulder surgeries, Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area tweets. The team is targeting a training camp return for Al-Shaair.

Here is the latest out of San Francisco:

  • New 49ers quarterbacks coach Brian Griese has dealt exclusively with the quarterbacks who have attended the team’s offseason program. He has not communicated with Jimmy Garoppolo since taking over, via Maiocco (on Twitter). While Garoppolo will surely still have a good grip on Kyle Shanahan‘s offense, this does mark another sign the franchise remains intent on finding a trade. Dealing Garoppolo is not a guarantee, but it has long been the team’s goal.
  • Elijah Mitchell made a surprise ascent early last season, leapfrogging third-round pick Trey Sermon and finishing with 963 rushing yards in just 11 games. The 49ers added another third-round back this year, in LSU’s Tyrion Davis-Price, and have a new running backs coach in Anthony Lynn. The team still views Mitchell as its top backfield option, according to ESPN.com’s Nick Wagoner, who adds the incumbent plans to be roughly 15 pounds heavier than he was last season. The 2021 sixth-round pick, who missed a chunk of the season due to multiple injuries, played at around 200 pounds as a rookie.
  • K’Waun Williams operated as the 49ers’ slot cornerback for five years, signing multiple contracts to stay in that role. But the veteran defected to the Broncos in free agency this year. Veteran Darqueze Dennard could benefit. Despite being a January practice squad addition, Dennard resides as the top slot option for San Francisco as of OTAs, Barrows adds (subscription required). Fifth-round pick Samuel Womack may be Dennard’s top challenger, per Barrows. Although Dennard played in just two regular-season games last year (one as a Giant, one as a 49er), he spent several years as the Bengals’ primary slot defender. This will be the former first-rounder’s age-31 season.
  • Jaquiski Tartt is not expected back with the 49ers this year. As of OTAs, Talanoa Hufanga and Tarvarius Moore reside as the top options to replace him, Barrows notes. Hufanga received the first crack at the strong safety job this week, according to Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. Moore’s contract tolled from 2021, a season he missed due to a torn Achilles suffered during the 49ers’ 2021 offseason program. The 49ers drafted Hufanga in last year’s fifth round; he started three games as a rookie. The team also signed ex-Colt safety George Odum this offseason.

NFL Draft Pick Signings: 5/13/21

Today’s late round signings:

Buffalo Bills

Carolina Panthers

Cleveland Browns

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

  • DT Alim McNeill (third round; North Carolina State)

Green Bay Packers

Kansas City Chiefs

Los Angeles Chargers

Miami Dolphins

Minnesota Vikings

New England Patriots

San Francisco 49ers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Washington Football Team