The 49ers already lost Jaquiski Tartt multiple weeks with a knee injury, and now Jimmie Ward will join him on the injury report, putting pressure on the team’s depth.
If the San Francisco 49ers made mistakes last offseason by not adequately stockpiling their cornerback crop and relying too heavily on veteran corner Jason Verrett, they seemingly took the opposite approach in reinforcing their depth at safety behind the two starters, Jaquiski Tartt and Jimmie Ward.
It’s a good thing. The Niners will need that depth.
Tartt is already on injured reserve after suffering a knee contusion in Week 7, meaning he’ll not be available for a return until after San Francisco’s Week 10 game against the Los Angeles Rams. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Ward will miss at least a week and potentially two with a quad injury, per head coach Kyle Shanahan’s updates on Monday in the wake of the 49ers’ Week 8 win over the Chicago Bears.
Shanahan didn’t officially rule Ward out for the Niners’ Week 9 home game against the Arizona Cardinals. But the early signs are pointing to San Francisco having to rely on its backups this upcoming weekend.
49ers offseason reserve pickups will have to step up
The 49ers made three key moves to address the safety depth behind Ward and Tartt, both players having a pretty extensive injury history entering 2021 anyway.
Veteran safety Tavon Wilson, primarily a special teams ace over much of his career, immediately came into the game to replace Ward, and Wilson appears poised to serve as the fill-in starter if Ward winds up missing an extensive period of time.
Pro Football Focus gave Ward a 81.6 game grade for his efforts in Week 8, which included a pass breakup on the lone target he saw during the game.
Additionally, Kai Nacua is another reserve safety option, while veteran Tony Jefferson is currently on the Niners practice squad.
Easily the most anticipated reserve filling the void was fifth-round rookie Talanoa Hufanga, who got the start in place of Tartt in Week 8 and will likely continue in that stead for as long as Tartt is out. Hufanga, who received a 68.5 PFF game grade and allowed one catch on two targets for 11 yards, certainly impressed veteran cornerback Josh Norman during the game:
"He was great. He was everything we asked for and some. He wasn’t scared of the moment. He actually grabbed that moment by the horns, and he ran with it. He’s just going to continue to keep improving, and a guy like that, he only can get better.I mean, he’s a rookie, for crying out loud. He played like a vet today."
San Francisco will be hoping Hufanga has a similar impact in Week 9 when the team faces off against the Cardinals, who own the league’s No. 4-ranked scoring offense.