No doubt about it, Jimmie Ward going down with a collarbone injury is both not-surprising and a setback. While he’s out, the San Francisco 49ers are putting someone we didn’t expect in the position. Tarvarus Moore was seen in at free safety and it apparently goes further than standing in for the injured Ward.
It sounds like Moore might just be a better safety than a cornerback. In a recent article by Matt Maiocco, assistant defensive backs coach Daniel Bullocks was excited to have Moore on the safety squad.
“His best fit I think is free safety,” Bullocks said. “We all evaluated him in college, and we liked him because he was playing free safety.”
The 49ers of course were drawn in by his impressive 40 time and upon drafting him, wasted no time switching him to cornerback. Whether he was a good cornerback his first year is up to you, but the fact he didn’t see the field until the injury plague swept the team might be telling. He defended two passes, and forced a single fumble in 2018 while playing special teams and cornerback. He started in two games. Pro Football Focus gave him a 52.1 overall grade. PFF broke down a lot of the defensive numbers of Moore in a great article on Friday as well.
2019 has Moore back at safety and it looks like this isn’t a temporary thing either:
Also just spoke with 49ers DB coach Joe Woods, who expressed excitement about Tarvarius Moore's current opportunity at FS. It sounds as if this is a position switch the 49ers are seriously considering making permanent. They know Moore's speed and that he excelled at FS in college— David Lombardi (@LombardiHimself) May 29, 2019
One of the bigger criticisms leveled at the 49ers in the 2019 NFL Draft was their lack of a pick at safety. Many thought they would address the position with free agency or the draft but the 49ers went in other directions.
Jimmie Ward has gone back and forth between nickel corner and safety much of his career. It might have had a detriment on his growth, but his injury history wasn’t helping either. Despite his flip-flopping He’s been decent at both when healthy, but thats been the problem: his health and he’s been unable to start a full 16-game season because of it (he has played 16 games, but not a starting in all of them). The 49ers brought him back on a one-year deal, mindful of his injury history, but $3 million is still $3 million and if Ward manages to play a full season with some solid numbers, that number and contract length is only going to get larger.
Moore, on the other hand, is going into his second season in the NFL and therefore is on a much cheaper contract than Ward. He’s coming with a cap hit of $799,093. He has a huge opportunity to impress and that contract figure is an advantage if he can do the most with his opportunity. Not only can he beat out Ward for a starting job, but economically if the difference in ability is Ward by a small margin, the 49ers could elect to go with the cheaper option.
Plus, there’s development. If he shows enough that the 49ers keep him at free safety this year, he wouldn't’ need to be a starter or beat Ward. He’d just need to show improvement that the 49ers could justify starting him next year. They got their starter for 2020 and a need filled.
Moore still could be going back to cornerback when training camp arrives. He’d be up against Jason Verrett, Richard Sherman, Ahkello Witherspoon and others. That seems like a tougher pack to rise above than the safety group. And sure, that unit has its own injury problems. Despite his injury history, Verrett may be considered more ‘proven’ than Ward is as well.
This is a huge opportunity for Moore. If he can use that flashy speed to go deep and bring some punishing hits along with it, the 49ers may have a cheaper (and hopefully more durable) option at safety for either now or 2020 at the latest.
Let’s see what he can do.