Talanoa Hufanga

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