For the diehard 49er fans, most seasons are full of surprises. This year has been no different. First, the Trey Lance era came to a screeching halt after 1.5 games. Then, Elijah Mitchell’s promising encore to his rookie season was put on ice after six carries. Oh, and the Niners traded for this guy named Christian McCaffrey.
There have been plenty of pleasant surprises from the Niners this season. Aaron Banks has been everything and then some in his first full season as a starter at left guard. In addition, Charles Omenihu and Samson Ebukam are having career years in their second seasons under Kris Kocurek.
Highest-graded player: ED Nick Bosa (89.9)
Like his brother, Bosa has been battling a groin injury this season. But that hasn’t slowed him down all that much. He is just as dominant as ever and a big reason why the 49ers have one of the NFL’s top defenses.
Biggest surprise: S Talanoa Hufanga (76.4)
One of the breakout stars of the NFL in 2022, Hufanga just keeps making a ton of big plays. He was known as a box safety at USC yet has excelled in coverage this season en route to becoming a well-rounded player.
Stat to know: The 49ers have the third-most sacks (27) in the NFL this season. They also have the fifth-best pass-rush win rate at 60.5%.
Bosa edged out Trent Williams for the top spot by a single point. Hufanga’s start was unsustainable as he was on pace to be All-World. After eight games, he leads all safeties in missed tackles and has one of the highest missed tackle percentages. That’s Talanoa’s greatest room for improvement.
There are plays Hufanga makes that PFF can’t account for. An example last week was a busted coverage where Hufanga picked up a receiver running open and limited the gain to single digits.
Hufanga has forced an incompletion on 14 percent of his targets, which ranks fourth among all safeties with at least 20 targets. He’s in the top six for pass breakups and interceptions and hasn’t allowed a touchdown in coverage.
Hufanga has five tackles for loss with an average depth of tackle at 2.4 yards, per Sports Info Solutions. He also is a dynamite blitzer. The missed tackles are racking up, but he’s making enough plays that those have been forgivable.
Per Sports Info Solutions, no safety has saved more points than Hufanga, at 33. After eight starts, he’s in the discussion for the defensive MVP, which tells you how much he’s meant to a defense that has had players in and out of the lineup.