Talanoa Hufanga is quickly building a reputation as a budding star for the San Francisco 49ers. His performances through two weeks of the 2022 NFL regular season have showcased the range and playmaking instincts of a complete safety.
Those performances have already caught the eye of a former two-time Pro-Bowler at the position. This ex-Niners star has urged the franchise not to wait before extending Hufanga’s contract.
A new deal may seem premature for a player who only joined the 49ers as a fifth-round draft pick in 2021. Yet, Hufanga is getting better every week and already establishing himself as key to the versatility of coordinator DeMeco Ryans’ defense.
Veteran of Super Bowl XLVII Urges Movement on Contract
Donte Whitner spoke to KNBR and urged the 49ers to act fast over Hufanga’s next deal: “It’ll probably be better to sign Talanoa Hufanga sooner than later.”
What stood out most to Whitner was how Hufanga is showing greater “anticipation” in Year 2: “the game has slowed down for him.” Hufanga’s better understanding of the game is making him “very valuable to this football team.”
That’s quite the endorsement from a former safety who went to consecutive Pro Bowls as a 49er in 2012 and ’13. Whitner’s words also echo a growing sentiment around the league that the Niners could have a star in the making in their defensive backfield.
Hufanga Generating Buzz Around the League
NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger is among Hufanga’s increasing number of fans. Baldinger broke down Hufanga’s “unbelievable movement” in the box and “perfect position” when covering in the slot.
There are ample reasons to share Baldinger’s enthusiasm for how rapidly Hufanga is developing into a force. One of those reasons involves his impressive numbers through two games.
The former USC standout has been in on 17 total tackles, including 12 solo stops. He’s also broken up three passes and snagged an interception.
Those numbers reveal an active defensive back who is impacting both phases of offenses. How Hufanga is faring against the pass is a bonus the 49ers may not have been counting on getting.
Making his presence known at the line or scrimmage was widely expected of a player who loves to attack downhill and carries the thump of a linebacker. Yet, as Niners Nation producer KP pointed out, the second-year pro has been just as stingy in coverage:
Hufanga’s aptitude in space has helped Ryans’ unit get by without experienced playmaker Jimmie Ward. The 31-year-old has begun this season on injured reserve, but his presence has barely been missed thanks to Hufanga’s emergence and how it’s helped Ryans call the same game.
Pairing Ward with Hufanga will give the 49ers a safety duo most of the rest of the league will fear and envy. Signing Hufanga to an extension soon will also endorse a draft success for general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan.
They need one of those after Trey Lance broke his ankle against the Seahawks, casting more negativity on the decision to trade three first-round picks to draft the quarterback third overall in 2021.