Beginning the season on the PUP list and injured reserve, respectively, Verrett and Ward are eligible to begin practicing after Week 4 and have a 21-day window to return to the field once activated, as Kyle Shanahan detailed in his Monday press conference, per a transcription by 49ers Webzone.
“After this week [Ward and Verrett] can come back and start practicing and it’s looking like they’ll have a chance to come back and start practicing,” Shanahan shared. “We don’t have to play them that week when they do and we got three weeks to make that decision, but hopefully they’ll be able to practice next week.”
Normally, adding two Pro Bowlers to a defense is an incredible thing, especially when said defense has the best overall rating according to Pro Football Focus, but the Niners find themselves in a very interesting spot heading into Week 4, as their safeties and cornerbacks have played surprisingly well so far this season.
The San Francisco 49ers’ Safety Tandem Had Been Elite
Through the first three games of the 2022 NFL season, no team has had a better safety tandem than the 49ers.
With breakout start Talanoa Hufanga locked in place at strong safety following the departure of Jaquiski Tartt and Tashaun Gipson elevated to play Ward’s role on the free side, the Niners have the sixth and fourth-ranked safeties in terms of defensive grade, respectively, according to Pro Football Focus. Both players recorded very good grades against the run and the pass, and while Hufanga still hasn’t recorded a sack on his six blitzing attempts, he’s tied for the most tackles for loss on the team at four with Nick Bosa and Kevin Givens, so that’s nothing to sneeze at for a player who has played twice as many snaps deep as in the box.
When Ward returns, Gipson will likely slot in as a swing safety coming off the bench but with Azeez Al-Shaair expected to miss 8-10 weeks with an MCL sprain, don’t be surprised if Demeco Ryans opts to use more three safety looks with Hufanga in the box as a pseudo-linebacker.
The San Francisco 49ers’ Cornerbacks Unit Is Much More Wide Open
Since initially signed with the 49ers in 2019, Verrett has played just 866 snaps in 15 games. He’s missed time with an ankle injury, lost the vast majority of 2021 with a torn ACL, and is still out in 2022 as he continues to rehab.
And yet, John Lynch continues to re-up Verrett because, when healthy, he’s a darn good cornerback who can play inside and out, in press, man, or zone coverage.
With only one starting cornerback, Charvarius Ward, ranking in the top-30 in defensive grade according to Pro Football Focus, and another, Samuel Womack, who has an elite 88.4 defensive grade but has only played 58 snaps, the Niners could theoretically opt to play Verrett on the outside in place of Emmanuel Moseley or kick him inside into the slot in place of Deommodore Lenoir, who played the lion’s share of the slot snaps in Week 3 and had a much lower PFF defensive grade.