49ers 53-man roster: Power ranking each unit entering 2021

Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /
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Jimmie Ward, Jaquiski Tartt, San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers free safety Jimmie Ward (20) with strong safety Jaquiski Tartt (29) Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports /

4th: 49ers Secondary

Starters: CB Jason Verrett, CB Emmanuel Moseley, FS Jimmie Ward, SS Jaquiski Tartt, NB K’Waun Williams

Backups: CB Ambry Thomas, CB Devontae Harris, CB Demmodore Lenoir,  S Talanoa Hafanga, S Tavon Wilson

On PUP (Not Season-Ending): S Tarvarius Moore

The 49ers in 2020 did not have a good pass rush, and it was apparent for the majority of the season. However, they managed to be so highly regarded on defense in large part because of their secondary. Former defensive coordinator Robert Saleh began calling plays more designed towards the talents of his secondary, which return four of its five starters, and the secondary became the backbone of the defense.

At cornerback, Jason Verrett has shown himself to be the supremely talented player he is when he’s healthy, and he kept his health for a full season. Banking on Verrett to stay healthy all of this year is a risk, but his talent justifies it. Over the slot, cornerback K’Waun Williams has continued to fly under the radar as one of the best nickel backs in the entire league.

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At safety, Jaquiski Tartt returned to the 49ers on a one-year deal, and now the Niners have a strong safety that has played at an above-average level when healthy (starting to notice a pattern).

Tartt passed the health test after the final preseason game, and given his ability, will likely start at strong safety this year.

Then there’s Jimmie Ward, perhaps one of the most underrated players in the entire league, and certainly one of the most underrated safeties. Ward doesn’t rack up significant counting stats like interceptions or forced fumbles, but his play effectively works like a security blanket, cleaning up on the backend. When Tartt went down with his injury, Saleh shifted Ward over to more of the box role, a moniker that is less true given the overall defensive shift to more two-high looks, and Ward responded with a showcase of his splash plays.

That leaves just the second starting cornerback position, one that Emmanuel Moseley has had a lock on for most of training camp but has seen some compelling competition.

Rookie third-round pick Ambry Thomas has struggled in adjusting to the NFL after opting out of college ball last year, but his talent is undeniable and there have been flashes of ability. While the hope that he could grab the starting spot no longer seems to be justified this year, it’s too early to be counting him out.

A player who has made a real push for playing time is rookie fifth-round pick Demmodore Lenoir, who despite being drafted to play at nickel back, played outside for much of the preseason and was exceptional, allowing only one catch when in direct coverage.

He offers the versatility to back up any corner on the 49ers and the talent to potentially start later down the season.

Thomas and Lenoir make up the cornerback depth along with Devontae Harris, a corner claimed off the Baltimore Ravens who hasn’t made much of a name for himself and seems to be on the roster fringe, perhaps cut if the 49ers choose to bring back Dontae Johnson on a non-guaranteed roster.

Until then, Harris offers the final protection on the boundaries.

At safety, the depth looks significantly better, which is why the secondary winds up ranked so highly. Rookie fifth-round pick Talanoa Hufanga has been sensational in the preseason and training camp, going so far as to even get starting snaps in the games and in practices. While it’s unlikely he unseats Tartt early this year, his presence may cause more three-safety looks to be called, as his aggressiveness and ball instincts can’t be taught.

Additionally, there is Tavon Wilson, a high-floor veteran who flashed while Tartt was out and survived Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix’s appearance on the roster. And while he is currently on PUP right now, safety Tarvarius Moore has started many times for San Francisco the last couple of years, and while his tackling angles may not always be perfect, he plays hard and hits fast.