Niner Noise’s annual “Who Is?” series on San Francisco 49ers players in 2017 takes a look at third-year safety Jaquiski Tartt and what he needs to make the 53-man roster this season.
San Francisco 49ers safety Jaquiski Tartt has a lot to prove as he enters his third season at the NFL level.
Tartt was initially drafted by the Niners to fill a hybrid-sort role, popular in the league as of late, as a safety doubling as an in-the-box linebacker. One might think of the Arizona Cardinals’ Deone Bucannon.
After being selected in Round 2 of the 2015 NFL Draft, No. 46 overall, Tartt’s second year was anything but encouraging:
Injuries forced Tartt to play more at the free safety position last season, although his 6-foot-1, 221-pound frame is ideally built to be closer to the line of scrimmage at strong safety.
This is likely where the Niners envision him heading into 2017, although a roster spot is anything but guaranteed.
So what will Tartt have to do to ensure he’s on the depth chart in Week 1?
San Francisco 49ers
Why He’ll Improve
San Francisco will use plenty of Cover 3 schemes under defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.
This calls for the strong safety to line up closer to the box, leaving the free safety — Jimmie Ward, in this case, patrolling the last line of defense.
The Niners likely have Eric Reid slotted to start at strong safety, which means Tartt is relegated to second-string duties.
This isn’t bad, per se. Reid is entering a contract year and, in an ideal world, Tartt would show enough in year three to justify the Niners moving on from their former 2013 first-round pick in 2018.
According to Pro Football Focus, Reid and Tartt were almost identical in overall grades last season — 70.4 and 70.2, respectively.
Combined with this change of scheme, which should allow Tartt to play more aggressively, is a good indication for his chances to make a notable improvement.
Why He’ll Regress
Tartt’s coverage abilities were one of the main concerns he had coming out of a small-school program like Samford.
Yet it was actually Tartt’s run-stopping marks that suffered last season. Per PFF, Tartt owned a lowly 51.4 run-defense grade on the year, which helps speak to the overwhelming issues the 49ers faced against the run in 2016.
This isn’t all on Tartt, of course, but one might figure his apparent strength coming out of college would have carried over to the NFL level.
A simplified scheme under Saleh should make Tartt’s life a bit easier. Yet it’s possible we see a reversal in skill set — Tartt’s run defense improves, while his pass coverage takes a hit.
And with San Francisco’s defensive backs seeing a lot of one-on-one coverage this season, this could end up being a serious problem as he looks to lock down opponents’ tight ends and running backs in the passing game.
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What to Expect in 2017
Tartt is working with the second-team defense, according to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee.
This should put the third-year pro in a good position to make the roster. But he’s feeling the pressure from fellow defensive backs like Vinnie Sunseri, Lorenzo Jerome and Don Jones. With Reid and Ward already in the picture, Tartt’s hold on a spot this season isn’t exactly guaranteed.
Despite Tartt’s relatively good position to make it through roster cuts, it’s highly unlikely he winds up starting this season unless injuries take their toll.
This is a real possibility, though, as both Reid and Ward have a bit of an injury history.
A best-case scenario would see Tartt emulating the kind of strong safety play seen by Seattle Seahawks defensive back Kam Chancellor. Chancellor’s hard-hitting ways have epitomized the Seahawks’ intimidating defense, and that’s the kind of trait the Niners saw in Tartt back in 2015.
He hasn’t quite lived up to the expectation level just yet. But some notable improvements might help him assume a more prominent role in San Francisco’s future.