After drawing comparisons to San Francisco 49ers strong safety Talanoa Hufanga during the pre-draft process, some fans and talent evaluators alike wondered how Ji’Ayir Brown would play alongside the All-Pro strong safety from USC. Asked this very question during his rookie minicamp media availability, Brown complimented Hufanga’s playing style but noted that if San Francisco wants them to play together long-term, they will make it work.
“He’s a great player,” Brown said of Hufangavia via 49rs WebZone. “Just watching the film, trying to learn the system, trying to be a sponge, he’s a guy I look at 24/7. I think he does a lot of things right, and he’s definitely a player you can model your game after. So all ups to Huf.
“If the coaches think that it’s best for me and him to be together, then that will happen.”
Though largely considered a strong safety prospect, Lance Zerlein of NFL.com noted that Brown could play all over the defensive secondary, from free safety to strong safety and even subpackage roles like the nickel or as a dime linebacker. If Brown can fill the role opposite Hufanga long-term, the 49ers will have a cost-controlled starting duo in 2024 before number 29 begins his second contract.
Steve Wilks Discusses the San Francisco 49ers’ New Safety
Asked about the 49ers’ decision to not only draft Brown but trade up to procure the PSU product, Wilks noted that everyone was on the same page with his selection during his first May media availability session.
“Just like all the assistant coaches, we go through the process of what personnel gives us in evaluating different guys at our position. I think we do a great job of really as John alluded to, collaborating and getting everybody’s thoughts and opinions. And when it came down to it, particularly one guy, Ji’Ayir Brown, we’re all on the same page in regards to how we felt about him and what he could bring to the 49ers.”
A noted “Wilks dude” who the 49ers’ head coach stood on the table for during the draft, San Francisco’s new defensive coordinator was asked to elaborate on what aspects of Brown’s game stood out during the pre-draft process.
“His tape just jumped off at you,” Wilks said via 49ers WebZone. “He just makes plays, but having an opportunity, we didn’t go to the combine, we did zooms, but even when you are there, those 15 minutes don’t give justice for us really trying to get to know someone. And we do a huge thing here where we bring our 30 in all at the same time we have dinner, top golf, and as you get into a social setting, I think you have more conversations. He just started growing on me, the conversation that we’re having, his dedication to the game, he’s mature, he sees it with a different lens, and I said, this guy right here can be the future for us, so I was excited about it, and I’m glad we got him.”
After going out of his way to target familiar faces on defense in free agency, Wilks clearly likes players who he connects with personally. If Brown fits into that category, the 49ers are lucky they were able to procure his services at pick 87.
Ji’Ayir Brown Is Ready to Learn From Tashaun Gipson
Commenting on the 49ers’ other starting safety from 2022, Tashaun Gipson, Brown noted just how excited he is to learn from the well-traveled former Pro Bowler.
“It’s amazing having a vet in any aspect of life, somebody that can walk you through the same steps they walked through, can give you advice,” Browns said. “I feel like experience is the best teacher. Who has more experience than him on the squad? So it’s a blessing to be working with him, too.”
Effectively drafted to take Gipson’s job long-term after the 32-year-old strongly considered retirement after the 2022 season, Brown appears happy to have the veteran safety around to serve as a mentor for his rookie season. Considering how highly Hufanga spoke about Gipson’s impact during his breakout sophomore season, it would appear Brown is in good hands.