San Francisco 49ers: 2020 will be crucial year for Tarvarius Moore

Tarvarius Moore #33 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Tarvarius Moore #33 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

At one time, the San Francisco 49ers were hoping they could turn former college safety Tarvarius Moore into a cornerback, yet now he’s looking like a moderate reserve and not much more. As such, 2020 will be a critical year for him.

San Francisco 49ers defensive back Tarvarius Moore‘s blazing-fast 4.32 40-yard time back during his 2018 pro day put him on the radar of many a team looking for secondary help in that year’s NFL Draft.

And as things turned out, the Niners came calling with a third-round pick, No. 95 overall.

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Moore was a college safety at Southern Mississippi. But San Francisco eyed him as a boundary corner, and his body type surely fit the frame for what defensive coordinator Robert Saleh prioritized. Moore’s straight-line speed didn’t hurt matters, either.

But Moore was mostly relegated to backup duties that season, starting just two games and only due to some notable injuries the team was enduring within the secondary.

The following year, in 2019, the 49ers made a push to get Moore back into his old position, free safety, in the wake of the veteran, Jimmie Ward, suffering a broken collarbone during offseason workouts. Moore received every chance to seize the opportunity, even getting a couple of starts early that year while Ward was still out, that time with a finger injury.

Yet Ward returned and took over. Then the Niners re-signed Ward to a three-year contract during the offseason.

So much for Moore being pegged as a long-term replacement at safety.

In Moore’s defense, young defensive backs tend to struggle transitioning to the pros. Ward was one such example, as the NFL-level routes and coverage schemes are far more complex. Opposing receivers are faster, tougher and more savvy.

Still, there’s a lot of upside to Moore still. He had what then appeared to be a game-sealing interception against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. And he’s often the first called upon behind Ward and strong safety Jaquiski Tartt when the Niners occasionally deploy their three-safety looks.

But one might ask a good question: Why don’t the 49ers move Moore back to cornerback?

Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon are both entering contract years, and the Niners don’t exactly have any other developmental boundary corners on their roster capable of starting right away. From that premise, as Sports Illustrated’s Jose L. Sanchez pointed out, it makes a lot of sense.

Moore wasn’t a fluid or smooth cornerback, though. And even those early NFL Draft scouting reports suggested Moore was much better a defensive back when the action was in front of him.

Backing up Ward has its merits. After all, the latter has landed on season-ending injured reserve in four of his first six seasons at the pro level. And while Ward has had some solid moments to go along with his exemplary 2019 campaign, there’s been an up-and-down career there, too.

All told, Moore will have a lot to prove in 2020. First, he’ll need to justify what kind of role he’ll occupy with San Francisco this season, now his third at the pro level. Be it a cornerback, safey or uber defensive back, Ward must capitalize on that chance.

He’ll also need to justify to the Niners it was worthwhile for them to take that third-round shot back in 2018. While the expectation levels are much lower for Round 3 draft picks, they’re still high and far exceed the expectations placed upon flier prospects, such as those for fifth-, sixth- or seventh-round selections.

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So far, Moore has teetered between those two categories, at least in terms of on-field abilities. In 2020, he’ll have to show he’s worth much more.