Defense in the NFL is evolving right before our eyes. The best defenses in the league these days have two good, willing safeties that are capable of making plays near the line of scrimmage and 25 yards down the field.
Long gone are the days where you have a free and a strong safety. If you can’t run the alley on outside runs or fit the run, you can’t play. But, on the other hand, if you can’t cover, whether that’s zone or man, you’re worthless in today’s game.
The San Francisco 49ers are fortunate to have two high-quality safeties. Jaquiski Tartt‘s health has been an issue since 2015. When he plays, the Niners’ defense is different. When he’s not on the field, the secondary looks lost, confused and is often making mental mistakes that you can’t afford.
I’d call Tartt the glue guy of the defense. He’s not the best player on the defense, but he does a lot of the dirty work and things that go unnoticed for a defense to be successful. He’s one of my favorite players to watch, as he’s underappreciated.
You have to play, though. Seven games aren’t going to cut it. Tartt played in 12 games during the ‘19 season but hasn’t played in double-digit games since 2016, which is why the team loaded up with veterans and a rookie safety as insurance.
Weight: 215 pounds
Age: 29 (turns 30 on February 18)
Experience: Six accrued seasons
Tartt enters the final year of his contract, and this could very well be the last season he suits up with the Niners. However, he has a chance to earn a nice paycheck in a contract year, especially with the talent on the defense.
Tartt’s base salary is only $990,000 this season. However, he has a guaranteed salary of $850,000.
Why he might improve in 2021
Well, first and foremost, Tartt will have a new number. First, he changed it to No. 26 after the draft. He then toyed with the idea of changing to a single-digit number but stuck with 26.
So, the bad injury juju from No. 29 is gone, right? Let’s hope so because we deserve a season where Tartt and Jimmie Ward stay healthy.
Tartt had an interception during the first game of the season last year, and it felt like 2020 was going to be his year. During the seven games, Tartt broke up three passes on 11 targets, had a couple of tackles for loss, and was his usual sound self, ensuring that big plays didn’t happen.
Let’s throw the Brian Allen experience game out of the window for a second. In the other six games last season, the defense allowed 5.1 yards per play. So I’m going to go out on a limb and say that number was significantly higher in the other games.
The defense is better with No. 26 on the field.
What to expect in 2021
Tartt joked that he hoped that he gets to blitz often with new defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans. However, I wouldn’t expect a Jamal Adams role for Tartt. In fact, I’d guess Tartt plays more in the post as a deep safety this year.
Under Robert Saleh, the 49ers were trending towards more combo coverages with two-high looks, where the team played a lot of quarters concepts with Tartt as the deep safety.
He has more range than you’d think, as Tartt sees the game well. I wouldn’t pigeonhole him into being just a deep safety, but you’d rather Ward and K’Waun Williams as your slot guys covering in man and blitzing, with Tartt as your literal safety help.
How versatile Tony Jefferson is will determine what Tartt does, too. I’m excited to see how the secondary is used and where they not only line up but who blitzes. Ryans has plenty of weapons at his disposal. Having a glue guy like Tartt will make his job easier.