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Who will start at strong safety for the 49ers?

The Niners didn’t draft a safety during the draft

Seattle Seahawks v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The 49ers drafted two defensive backs during the 2022 NFL Draft, but both players were cornerbacks. Safety was a position many, myself included, felt like the Niners would address with one of their first three picks.

General manager John Lynch was asked whether forgoing to draft a safety was a reflection of how the draft fell or if the team is comfortable with who is on the roster. Lynch said it’s a bit of both.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan shared his thoughts on how the safety position looks as of today:

“When you look at the safety you would love to have a safety, but we’ve also got [DB] Jimmie Ward who I think he’s pretty good. We spent a draft pick on [S Talanoa] Hufanga last year who we think had a really good rookie year. We brought in a really good safety in free agency in [S George] Odum, a special teams captain for his team, started a number of games for them at Indy this year and then we’ve got [DB] Tarvarius [Moore] coming back who in 2020, he played half a year as a starter and we thought he finished his last five games as a true starting safety and before that he was always one of our best special teams players. So you’ve got four NFL players there. You always want to upgrade and take the best, but you do have four NFL players there.”

Shanahan added that Moore was doing well in his recovery from a season-ending torn Achilles last summer and how he’s excited about Moore.

Tarvarius will be 26 by the time the season starts. In a league where speed and athleticism hide defensive deficiencies, Moore should have the leg up on the rest of the safeties on the roster. In 2020, Moore started eight games. It’s worth noting that he had a low missed tackle rate and had a couple of tackles for loss. Moore can play all over the field, too.

We should ask whether or not the 49ers have enough quality competition at safety. One popular free agent is Tyrann Mathieu. Of course, now that we’re beyond the draft, any free agent the team signs won’t count against their compensatory formula. On Sunday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter said the New Orleans Saints are expected to make an “aggressive push” to sign Mathieu, whose hometown is New Orleans.

Mathieu turns 30 this month, but he’s started at least 15 games every year, dating back to 2017. The Honey Badger would bring availability, leadership, versatility, ball skills, etc. On Monday morning, Mathieu signed with the Saints.

At times, his effort was a question in Kansas City last year. Father Time isn’t kind to defensive backs once they turn 30. Plus, you have to wonder how much money Mathieu is looking for. The 49ers are up against the cap as long as Jimmy Garoppolo is on the roster — unless they extend a player or two.

Other veterans include 32-year-old Tashaun Gipson, 34-year-old Jason McCourty, and an old friend, Jaquiski Tartt. Lynch said the team hadn’t talked to Tartt yet, while Shanahan said the 49ers would “never rule out anybody like that.”

There’s uncertainty at the safety position opposite of Ward. The 49ers haven’t been big spenders in the secondary during the Shanahan/Lynch tenure. Instead, they’ve invested in the defensive line. A better pass rush will make any secondary look better. Training camp will be telling to see how the safety rotation goes and whether or not Hufanga takes a step in Year 2 or if Moore’s athleticism is back.