Rising 23-Year-Old 49ers Defender Given Top 5 Positional Ranking


Getty Josh Jacobs gets surrounded and brought down by 49ers on January 1, 2023.

It’s the season for rankings in the NFL — and the San Francisco 49ers have no shortage of top 10 representatives.

One 23-year-old star Talanoa Hufanga, though, is officially top five in the eyes of CBS Sports NFL analyst Garrett Podell, who unveiled his top 10 safeties for the upcoming season on Monday, June 26. Hufanga came in earning the network’s No. 5 overall slot.

“Talanoa Hufanga has only played two seasons of NFL football, but he’s already one of the best in the league, earning Pro Bowl and First-Team All-Pro accolades in 2022, his first year as a full-time starter,” Podell wrote. “His standout ability to generate takeaways in coverage (four interceptions) while also being a threat as a pass-rusher (2.0 sacks and seven quarterback pressures) helped power the San Francisco 49ers to the top-ranked scoring defense in the league last season (16.3 points per game allowed).”

And Hufanga rose to his top five ranking after falling in the fifth round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Nine different NFL teams passed on Hufanga in addressing their safety spot. He immediately became a fan favorite among the 49ers Faithful for his aggressive nature, versatility and willingness to get coached and critiqued by his coaches. And Podell says that Hufanga may not be No. 5 for long.

“If Hufanga can replicate his efforts as a starter going forward, he’ll be threatening for the top spot on this list in short order,” Podell said.

Who Went Ahead of Hufanga? Multiple Pro Bowlers Including 1 Who Demanded a Trade

Considering the impact Hufanga displayed in 2022, many fans including those from the 49ers Faithful will likely strongly disagree with “Huf’s” No. 5 safety ranking.

But the remaining list of safeties ahead of the 49er were guys who have the edge in versatility and Pro Bowl appearances. One, though, was once a trade possibility.

Ranking ahead of Hufanga was Budda Baker at No. 4. Baker requested a trade before the 2023 NFL Draft and is playing for an NFC West rival in the Arizona Cardinals going through drastic roster changes — including releasing All-Pro wide receiver De’Andre Hopkins. However, Baker holds the edge with five Pro Bowl appearances and two All-Pro nods.

Justin Simmons of the Denver Broncos came in at No. 3, following three second team All-Pro nods in 2019, 2021 and 2022. Minkah Fitzpatrick of the Pittsburgh Steelers came in at No. 2 — with CBS Sports calling him “the NFL’s prototypical free safety” and a “true centerfielder.”

The No. 1 safety? He’s the top one on multiple rankings…Derwin James of the Los Angeles Chargers because the All-Pro “can do anything and everything a coach could ask out of a player at the position” as CBS Sports says.

Fellow 49ers Safety Also Earned National Ranking

Hufanga was notably not mentioned in one other national outlet’s rankings on June 22. But, the 49ers still had a top 10 representative by Doug Farrar of USA Today in Tashaun Gipson.

“Gipson’s career arc has been interesting, to say the least. Most safeties don’t have their best seasons at age 32, but the former undrafted free agent out of Wyoming is a notable exception,” Farrar wrote. “Gipson is coming into his 12th NFL season, and he’s had decent runs with the Browns, Jaguars, Texans, and Bears. But there was something about his fit with DeMeco Ryans’ 49ers defense in 2022 that brought out the best in him. San Francisco actually released him in final cuts in August, 2022, but brought him back, elevated him from the practice squad, and all he did in response was to outdo every other season in his career.”

Farrar cited the veteran’s coverage ability as to why Gipson cracked his top 10.

“Last season, Gipson allowed 19 catches on 32 targets for 315 yards, 86 yards after the catch, no touchdowns, five interceptions, three pass breakups, and an opponent passer rating of 53.0,” Farrar wrote.

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