ESPN went through each NFL team to determine the biggest hole remaining on their respective rosters. Most teams had some starter listed, whether it was an offensive tackle or a linebacker. For the San Francisco 49ers, no starter was listed. Instead, depth at safety is where ESPN believes the 49ers must improve:
Between defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw and wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, the 49ers found a pair of first-round draft picks to fill the holes left in their Super Bowl lineup by the departures of DeForest Buckner and Emmanuel Sanders. They also swung a trade during the draft for Washington tackle Trent Williams, who will step in for the retired Joe Staley. With the rest of the roster virtually unchanged (17 of 22 starters from Super Bowl LIV will return this season), it’s difficult to find a weakness on this roster. That said, it would be nice if safeties Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt made more of an impact next season. The 49ers were the only team in the NFL last season whose safeties failed to record an interception, and they were in the bottom five in tackles at the position too. Although defensive coordinator Robert Saleh often leaves his safeties deep to take away big plays, they are only moderately successful at that, ranking 12th in open-field rushing yards allowed and 10th in coverage against deep passes. Then there’s the matter of durability. Ward has started 10 games only twice in six NFL seasons; Tartt has done so once in five. Neither has ever started more than 13 games.
It’s difficult to find a weakness on the roster. This is where stats will never tell you the value of a player such as Ward or Tartt. You can’t quantify football IQ and making the sound play. First of all, being tenth is far from bad. Can Tartt and Ward make more plays on the ball? Of course. So can everyone else. For their roles, you start to nitpick when you try and find areas of each safeties game where they can improve.
While it’s a compliment that the Niners don’t have a glaring hole on each side of the ball, health for the starting safeties has to be a concern, for the reasons listed in those final two sentences. Ward and Tartt’s value showed up the most when they weren’t on the field in 2019. A few missed tackles by Tarvarius Moore led to a couple of big plays for opposing offenses. Ward missed four tackles in 16 games. Tartt missed the month of December and the 49ers red zone defense went from top-five to falling out of the top-20 in touchdown efficiency.
With that said, the schedule matters. Not having Tartt for the second half of the Ravens, the entire Saints game, and both the Rams and Seahawks is quite a bit different than missing Tartt against backup quarterbacks and offenses that don’t pose much of a threat. Marcell Harris is a capable backup, and Moore is closer to competent. I’m not sure how much better you want your backups to be, but when you don’t have holes on the roster, you have to nitpick.