The San Francisco 49ers are off to an 0-4 start, but there are some notable bright spots, particularly on defense. There are still plenty of holes on both sides of the roster, but we are seeing potential cornerstone pieces emerge.
Pro Football Focus announced their first and second team All Pro rosters for the first quarter of the season. The 49ers ended up with five players listed, including three first team All Pro players. The first team group included right tackle Trent Brown, defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, and special teams player Raheem Mostert. The second team group included safety Jaquiski Tartt, and punter Bradley Pinion.
The 49ers defense has taken notable strides, but the special teams units have been playing down near lights out. The missed extra point was huge in the loss to the Los Angeles Rams, but otherwise the unit has been great. Football Outsiders ranks the 49ers special teams No. 2 in the NFL.
Pinion is the high profile player of this group. He ranks sixth in net punting average, and is tied for second in punts dropped inside the 20. However, Raheem Mostert has quietly become a strong core option on special teams. This past weekend, he had two punt return tackles and forced two fair catches on his coverage. He plays in all four kick and punt coverage units, and is looking like a solid core option moving forward.
Through four games, Brown has given up five pressures. He has faced strong pass rushing units with regularity this season, and has stood up well in pass protection. His run blocking still needs some work, but he is proving to be an ideal bookend with Joe Staley.
Buckner leads all interior linemen with 23 quarterback pressures, which is three more than the next closest player. He finally got on the board in Week 4 with a sack, and had a second one called back because of offensive holding. He also ranks 13th among defensive tackles in run-stop percentage. He is thoroughly dominant, and has emerged as a cornerstone to the 49ers defense.
The 49ers entered training camp Jimmie Ward and Eric Reid looking like the starting free and strong safeties. Tartt was going to be a sub-package guy who played a mix of defensive back and linebacker in the dime. However, injuries at different times to Ward and Reid have pushed Tartt into the starting lineup. He opened the season as the starting free safety the first two weeks. Ward return and Reid got hurt, and so Tartt has started at strong safety the last two weeks.
Once Reid returns, it will be interesting to see what kind of role Robert Saleh utilizes for Tartt. He makes plenty of sense coming in for dime situations, but once they get Reuben Foster back, do you try and figure out some rotations in the nickel as well? Tartt is emerging as an extremely useful piece of the puzzle, but as the team potentially gets healthier, they need to figure out where he best fits.