The 180th overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft has shown that he may have been a steal in the draft only two weeks into his sophomore season.
In Talanoa Hufanga’s rookie season, he lacked heavy playing time in the defense when the secondary was healthy. He only started 3 games at the safety position averaging 4 tackles per game started in 2021.
During his first season, Hufanga’s primary role was within the special teams unit. In the 2021 Divisional Playoff Round, he returned a blocked punt for a touchdown to tie the game up with little time left in the fourth quarter. After this play, people would begin recognizing the young safety’s name.
After moving on from strong safety Jaquiski Tartt and with free safety Jimmie Ward going on injured reserve, Hufanga has been given the chance to show his talents in a position of need for the 49ers. Through the first two weeks of the 2022 campaign, he has filled that gap in a way that has exceeded expectations.
Week One Performance
In Week One, Hufanga had a monster performance. In a sloppy team effort against the Chicago Bears, Hufanga stood out as a bright spot on the Niners’ defense.
He racked up a total of 11 tackles against the Bears. Nine of which were solo tackles, and the other two were assisted. Throughout the game, he became a key part of slowing down the Bear’s running game.
Hufanga had one pass defended in a game where the Bears did not keep a strong passing game plan. He also added in an interception at Chicago’s 49-yard line to set up the 49ers in good starting field position. Although the Niners failed to take advantage of the good starting field position, big plays like that in future games will lead to more scoring opportunities.
Week Two Performance
In the second week of the season, the 49ers’ defense had a solid game, holding the Seahawks offense to zero points scored. The only points scored by their opponent was a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown.
Hufanga had another impactful game in Week Two. He had six total tackles throughout the contest and five of them were solo tackles. He also had two passes defended, one of which was deflected into the air and intercepted by fellow safety Tashaun Gipson Sr.
Seattle’s game plan consisted mostly of passing the ball since they were forced to work from behind for almost the entire game. With a lower amount of tackles and more passes defended than the previous week, this shows that Hufanga shows strength in the coverage game as well. The ball was not passed his way very often and when it was he had made the necessary plays.
Hufanga’s Impact Going Forward
With fellow safety Jimmie Ward being injured, Hufanga has been asked to take control over the safety positions. We can expect when Ward comes back that the 49ers secondary will be a formidable force for opponents to go against.
With it being so early within his career we will continue to see improvements throughout his young career. It would be no surprise to continue to see his snap count grow. He has already shown flashes of what he is capable of on both the defense and special teams side of the ball. 49er fans should be excited about what both head coach Kyle Shanahan and defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans have planned for him throughout the 2022 campaign.
Bold Prediction: Hufanga turns into a top-five safety this season.