49ers DB Tarvarius Moore in for a bigger role in 2020?

Tarvarius Moore #33 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Tarvarius Moore #33 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

Niner Noise’s “Who Is?” series on 49ers players looks at whether or not Tarvarius Moore could see an expanded role in 2020 after closing out last year strong.

Early in 2019, the San Francisco 49ers were giving then-second-year pro defensive back Tarvarius Moore every possible chance to secure a starting job at free safety, particularly thanks to the veteran, Jimmie Ward, suffering both a broken collarbone in offseason workouts and a broken finger during the initial weeks of the regular season.

It didn’t exactly materialize the way the Niners wanted. Moore, a natural free safety during his college days at Southern Mississippi, was plucked from the starting lineup after three games upon Ward’s return. At that point, San Francisco’s pass defense solidified.

Moore, meanwhile, was relegated to a reserve player capable of backing up Ward, providing added support at boundary cornerback and serving as a No. 3 safety in “big nickel” sets when defensive coordinator Robert Saleh would deploy that formation.

The regular-season numbers weren’t particularly impressive:

Tarvariuis Moore Defense & Fumbles Table

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/20/2020.

But Moore’s stock value certainly looked better when he picked off Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes late in Super Bowl LIV, which at the time appeared to be the game-sealing play:

Yes, the interception was deflected by the intended receiver and went straight into the hands of Moore. But players put themselves into position to make these kinds of plays, and there’s little questioning Moore did that here.

Now, the question is whether or not Moore can increase his role in 2020. The third-year pro isn’t slated to start, thanks to the 49ers bringing back Ward on a new contract.

Yet with questions about the team’s secondary depth and the increased usage of three-safety sets, is Moore pegged for a larger role this upcoming season?

Niner Noise’s “Who Is?” series takes a deeper look.

Why Tarvarius Moore improves with 49ers in 2020

Well, the easy assumption is the recognize many a young defensive back struggles in transitioning from the college ranks to the pros. Entering year three of his pro career, Moore could be on this trajectory. Unlike his rookie season, which was satisfactory for a sometimes-used Round 3 NFL Draft pick, the early results from 2019 weren’t particularly inspiring.

Especially considering his merely so-so 62.1 pass-coverage grade, per Pro Football Focus, which was knocked down a lot early by being out of position on plays when he was starting in place of Ward.

Yet Moore’s 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame is ideal for boundary corners in Saleh’s system. The veteran, Richard Sherman, is of the same ilk. But Moore has one thing in his toolbox Sherman always lacked: speed.

Remember, Moore’s draft stock rose considerably when he ran a blazing-fast 4.32 40-yard time during his pro day. And that’s one of the key reasons he could serve as the middle safety in a big-nickel package, particularly necessary at chasing down faster tight ends and running backs.

If Moore thrives in this role, he could see some major improvements, statistically, from the previous two years.

Why Tarvarius Moore regresses with 49ers in 2020

For better or worse, the Niners did something awfully similar with Ward over the first few seasons of his career, playing him at a multitude of positions varying from boundary cornerback, nickel back and both safety spots.

It likely hindered Ward’s development, preventing him from being a solid and reliable contributor until well after his rookie contract expired.

Moore, who transitioned from safety to cornerback his rookie season, then moved back to safety because of Ward’s injury in 2019, now finds himself in an unusual role of being an “uber” defensive back to support both safety and boundary corner spots.

That’s a lot to learn for any new player, especially one who hasn’t been locked into one role since joining the NFL ranks.

Plus, Moore’s route recognition at the pro level has never been a strength despite the Super Bowl interception. It’s possible “he is who he is,” essentially, which might be good enough for a reserve player.

But not someone who’ll wholly justify a Round 3 draft selection.

Projected role with 49ers in 2020

San Francisco has depth questions all over the secondary. Ward and Jaquiski Tartt both come with injury histories, while there aren’t too many proven commodities behind Sherman and Emmanuel Moseley at outside cornerback. Ahkello Witherspoon is in the mix here, yes, but the depth on the boundary drops off significantly beyond that trio.

It’s likely the Niners peg Moore for a similar situation this season, electing to go with him as a primary free safety/boundary cornerback reserve player in situations where Saleh isn’t using the big-nickel package.

Yet those big nickels could be on the rise for the 49ers this season, especially with some of the faster, more-explosive offenses the team will see. When facing NFC West squads, particularly the up-and-coming Arizona Cardinals, having a speedy centerfield safety in between two other safeties provides a lot of value.

Moore’s increase in field time, which was at just over 22 percent of defensive snaps, could see a noticeable boost this season especially if the Niners use more three-safety sets.

And, of course, there are the injury concerns, too, which could increase Moore’s impact in what could be a turning-point season.

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Especially if he winds up putting the intangibles together with his two years’ experience.