49ers roster 2021: Kai Nacua has a slim chance of staying

San Francisco 49ers safety Kai Nacua (43) Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers safety Kai Nacua (43) Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

Kai Nacua was a relative 49ers unknown last year, and his chances of hanging around in 2021 took an even bigger hit with a bolstered safety depth chart.

It’s possible this will be the only article about San Francisco 49ers reserve safety and special teams contributor Kai Nacua that Niner Noise ever writes.

I recall the first time even hearing about Nacua, which was in Week 13 last year against the Buffalo Bills after Nacua had been promoted from the practice squad.

Both transactions — the Niners inking Nacua to the practice squad on Nov. 24 and him being promoted for the final five games of the 2020 regular season — were probably easy to miss. Chances are, you missed or overlooked them, too.

At any rate, Nacua entered the league as an undrafted free-agent signing of the Cleveland Browns out of BYU back in 2017, seeing action in 16 games his rookie year and even starting three contests before bouncing around the league ahead of him joining San Francisco late in 2020.

Kai Nacua Defense & Fumbles Table
1 yr1 yrCLE1630.01412211
1 yr1 yrSFO500.011000

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com
Generated 7/8/2021.

He only played three defensive snaps for the 49ers last season, and the bulk of his work over those five games was on special teams.

Signed to a one-year contract extension during the offseason, does the 26-year-old Nacua actually have a chance of hanging around into 2021?

Why Kai Nacua makes a mark with 49ers in 2021

Not having watched a ton of Browns football back in 2017, it’s hard to gauge just how big an impact Nacua had when he had a chance of playing a more prominent role.

According to Pro Football Focus, though, he posted a solid 70.6 overall grade on 214 defensive snaps that year and even managed to break up one of the four passes thrown in his direction.

As far as his special teams efforts with the Niners last year, PFF gave him a 60.7 grade, which effectively means he was out there but didn’t do anything special, since the automatic PFF grade default is 60.0 and can only move in one direction or another from there.

Yet if Nacua capitalizes on his special teams prowess a bit more under coordinator Richard Hightower, perhaps he can carve out a role for himself.

Why Kai Nacua will be a 49ers afterthought

Whatever prompted the Niners to re-sign Nacua during the offseason is unclear, and it’s entirely possible he’s just a camp body.

But there was one major area of concern from that 2017 season, and it was missed tackles — specifically two of them on 12 tackling attempts, which could thwart whatever efforts he tries to make on either defense or special teams.

Chances of making 49ers’ 53-man roster

There are players who are on the weaker side of the bubble, and then there are the long shots.

Nacua’s promotion late last year might suggest he’s not quite a total long shot like a late offseason add, but he certainly has his work cut out for him. Even with reserve safety Tarvarius Moore expected to miss the bulk of 2021, at least, with a torn Achilles.

Related Story: Predicting 49ers safety depth after Tarvarius Moore injury

San Francisco still has its two starting safeties, Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt, in place. Immediately behind them are Marcell Harris, Tony Jefferson, Tavon Wilson, Jared Mayden and the rookie, Talanoa Hufanga, who all seem to have a better chance of hanging around on the 53-man roster than Nacua.

With zero in guaranteed money on his one-year deal, there’s no reason for the 49ers to hold onto Nacua unless he shines in training camp and the preseason.

What’ll likely happen is Nacua gets a shot late in the first preseason game or two of 2021, potentially getting some more looks in Week 3 of the preseason if he’s not part of the initial wave of roster cuts.

But that’s likely it.

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