49ers roster: What will Jared Mayden’s role be in 2021?

San Francisco 49ers safety Jared Mayden (43) Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers safety Jared Mayden (43) Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports /

Second-year 49ers safety Jared Mayden saw a sniff of the field on special teams last year, but a crowded backfield in 2021 creates a cloudy future.

It wouldn’t have been unreasonable to think one of the San Francisco 49ers‘ undrafted free-agent signings from 2020, former Alabama safety Jared Mayden, could work his way towards carving out a niche role at the pro level.

Maybe not in year one, but at some point eventually.

After all, Mayden was once viewed as the Niners’ best UDFA signing that year. And while Mayden was largely overshadowed at the collegiate level by his former safety teammate, the now-New York Giants‘ Xavier McKinney, there were ample reasons to expect Mayden to make a significant dent at the NFL level.

Jared Mayden Collegiate Defense & Fumbles Table
TacklesDef IntFumbles

Provided by CFB at Sports Reference
Generated 7/3/2021.

Yet Mayden didn’t get much of a chance his rookie season, landing on the practice squad heading into 2020 before being promoted for just two games during the year amid a slew of injuries on both sides of the ball.

Even then, all of Mayden’s 24 snaps his rookie season came on special teams. Nothing more.

With a number of changes and additions within San Francisco’s secondary heading into 2021, will Mayden see an increased role?

Niner Noise’s “Who is?” series dives deeper.

Why Jared Mayden sees an increase in field time with 49ers in 2021

Mayden managed an open-field tackle during his brief stint last year on special teams, and his efforts against the New England Patriots on this crucial-but-overlooked third unit looked solid enough to suggest he could be a special teams contributor.

The 6-foot-0, 205-pound defensive back does have the flexibility and versatility to play both safety spots, which works to his advantage as a backup to help guard against probable injuries to the 49ers’ two injury-prone starters, Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt.

And with the Niners likely to miss reserve safety Tarvarius Moore for the bulk of 2021 because of an Achilles tear, someone who’s capable of filling in at either free safety or strong safety has some value.

If Mayden winds up making splash plays during training camp and the preseason, that could be enough to push him onto the 53-man roster in a reserve/special teams role.

Challenges Jared Mayden faces with 49ers in 2021

It would be one thing if Mayden was already at the top of the reserve depth chart behind Ward and Tartt. Yet San Francisco already has another returning safety, Marcell Harris, in the mix for a roster spot. And on top of that, the 49ers added two other veteran options, Tavon Wilson and Tony Jefferson, who have more than enough experience to start, too.

Wilson also has been a special teams ace for much of his career.

Tack on the Niners’ fifth-round draft addition from this year, USC‘s Talanoa Hufanga, and it’s not hard to see why Mayden faces some serious competition that could ultimately mean he won’t make the cut.

Mayden might not have the coverage abilities to suggest he’ll be worth a roster spot. Such was the case in 2020 when San Francisco ultimately elected to go with Harris, not Mayden, for the fourth and final option at safety.

Chances of making 49ers’ 53-man roster

There’s little doubting Mayden is on the weaker side of the 49ers’ roster bubble heading into training camp. Even if Mayden winds up having himself quite the camp and showing some serious improvement over last year, it might not be enough.

He simply could be a victim of the numbers game.

Even with injury concerns surrounding Ward and Tartt, the Niners are likely to keep only four safeties on their 53-man roster. Hufanga, who has been a solid riser ever since he was drafted, stands a strong chance. So does Jefferson, provided he can prove he’s fully recovered from a 2019 ACL tear.

That essentially leaves Mayden to compete with Wilson and Harris for the remote chance to be a dark-horse addition to the regular-season crop. It’s not necessarily a good outlook.

Yet Mayden will still have practice squad eligibility under the pre-2020 rules, meaning San Francisco could still look to stash him as a reserve player in case the defense begins to suffer some more attrition.

With Tartt a free agent next year, this might not be a bad idea. And Mayden could still end up being one of those developmental UDFA finds who winds up making a notable impact.

Just not within the first two years of his career.

Next. Ranking 49ers' 10 best late-round NFL Draft picks in team history. dark