4 second-year 49ers poised for a breakout 2022 season

Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /
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Talanoa Hufanga, San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers safety Talanoa Hufanga (29) Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports /

49ers breakout player No. 3: Safety Talanoa Hufanga

2021 might have revealed the 49ers’ fifth-round rookie, safety Talanoa Hufanga, didn’t have quite the speed or coverage skills necessary to be a full-time defensive starter.

Yet he might have to end up starting, especially if veteran strong safety Jaquiski Tartt departs in free agency and the Niners don’t look elsewhere to replace him.

Even if Tartt returns, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Hufanga assume a larger role than just an occasional third safety in big-nickel packages on special teams. And why there’ll be a concern about Hufanga’s 114.1 passer rating allowed in coverage last season with two touchdowns surrendered, there’s something about players who are involved in big plays.

In his final year at USC, Hufanga had four interceptions, two forced fumbles and three sacks, which certainly isn’t bad for a linebacker-type safety. And, of course, it was Hufanga who scored that special teams touchdown in the 2022 divisional-round playoff game against the Green Bay Packers.

Hufanga might be able to see more of the field in a specialized role next season, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see some of those splash plays becoming more common.