Despite re-signing several of their own key free agents, the San Francisco 49ers needed to address their secondary this offseason.
General manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan could have had a ton of holes to fill on the backline of the defense. But they were able to ink new deals with corners Jason Verrett, Emmanuel Moseley and K’Waun Williams, plus safety Jasquiski Tartt to short-term deals.
Lynch and co. added the secondary during the 2021 NFL Draft, adding cornerback Ambry Thomas in the third round and USC safety Talanoa Hufanga in the fifth.
Hufanga is an intriguing prospect. He racked up 203 tackles (16.5 for losses), 6.5 sacks, four interceptions and eight passes defended during his three years with the Trojans. Hufanga was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year last season.
Hufanga is known for his aggressive playing style and will bring versatility to the back end of the Niners’ defense. His penchant for playing with an attacking mindset resulted in two broken collarbones, dislocated shoulder and a concussion while at USC.
After facing adversity during his collegiate career, Hufanga feels fortunate to be in the Bay Area as a member of the 49ers.
“I’m blessed,” Hufanga said. “I just want to thank God for this opportunity. Being able to (take a flight) here and land at the airport, I just try to take in everything. Driving up and being able to see the facilities is an incredible process. I’m really just enjoying it.”
Lynch — who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame later this year — had high praise for Hufanga, comparing the USC product’s playing style to his own.
“That is just surreal to hear something like that; I can’t compare myself to him because he’s arguably one of the best to be in the business to do it,” Hufanga said. When you’ve got shoes to fill like that, you just try to make the most in your own way. He’s (going into the Hall of Fame), so I’ve got to give him respect and honor because that’s unbelievable.”
Some draft pundits, including former San Francisco GM Scot McCloughan, believe the Niners got one of the steals of the draft by taking Hufanga in the fifth round.
Hufanga has worked with another former USC defensive star and another future Hall of Famer, Troy Polamalu. The former Pittsburgh Steelers star worked with Hufanga leading up to the draft and has served as a mentor to the youngster.
“A lot of what we did was very unique to our training, itt wasn’t designed to run the 40 and do these things because a lot of it is the mental training outside of football and what it is for life,” Hufanga said. “Troy would be the first to tell you that a lot of his focus I think was football, but a lot of it was everything outside, having balance and being able to provide for his family as well.”
Head coach Kyle Shanahan loved what he saw on Hufanga college tape. He’s looking forward to seeing what Hufanga brings to the team both in the short and long term.
“Love him at safety, hits like a linebacker,” Shanahan said after picking Hufanga. “His mentality — he’s an old school badass as we say. We’re excited to get him here.”
It will be interesting to see how Hufanga develops. But if he can refine his technique and learn the NFL game sooner than later, he has the potential to become a fan favorite.