Late-Round Pick Showing Signs of Being Next Niners’ Star

Talanoa Hufanga

Getty Talanoa Hufanga, making the tackle October 31 on Damien Williams, impressed coaches and teammates during his first professional start.

All San Francisco 49ers S Talanoa Hufanga has done since being selected in the fifth round of this year’s draft is impress.

In fact, Hufanga immediately left his mark on San Francisco fans by his emotional reaction after being selected 180th overall out of USC. Moments later, he pledged he would work his tail off and become a special teams Pro Bowler during his rookie season, per NBC Sports Bay Area. This was before he even played one snap.

Then Hufanga wowed coaches in training camp, competing for the starting safety spot before a fifth-round pick was supposed to. He didn’t earn the starting job during the preseason, but he got there eventually. Due, in part, to a turf toe injury to S Jaquiski Tartt, Hufanga started his first professional game during San Francisco’s 33-22 win over the Chicago Bears on October 31, and his play, fittingly, impressed.

“I thought he did real well. I was excited about Huf,” head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters on November 1 about Hufanga’s first NFL start. “You can see the passion he plays with. And I bet you guys notice that, I bet the fans notice it. And usually when you have some talent and you play with that type of passion, it gives you a chance to separate yourself. And I think he’s doing that here the last few weeks.”

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The Future is now for 49ers Secondary

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Hufanga should get more opportunities to shine.

The 49ers placed Tartt – a second round pick in 2015 – on the injured reserve list on October 30, right before the Bears game, meaning the strong safety will miss at least the next two games. That gives Tufanga more time to prove that he belongs as a starter and that the Niners’ defense is better with him as a part of the regular secondary.

“He flew around, made some plays for us and Huf is just going to continue to get better and better,” defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans told reporters during a press conference November 3 about Hufanga’s play. “He’s a great communicator, really smart player, and he plays the game with a passion and energy that’s contagious to others.”

Hufanga Leaving his Mark Early

Against the Bears, Hufanga was credited with five tackles, four of them solo, including one for a loss, per But more importantly, he played all 70 defensive snaps and brought a hard-hitting energy onto the field that earned his his coaches’ and teammates’ praise.

Mercury News Reporter Jerry McDonald quoted 49ers CB Josh Norman and LB Fred Warner as saying they felt Hufanga’s presence on the field in Chicago.

“He was great. He was everything we asked for and some,” Norman said in McDonald’s November 1 column on Hufanga’s contribution. “He wasn’t scared of the moment. He actually grabbed that moment by the horns, and he ran with it. He’s just going to continue to keep improving, and a guy like that, he only can get better.

“I mean, he’s a rookie, for crying out loud. He played like a vet today.”

The immediate impact and praise for presence are reminiscent of when former Seattle Seahawks S Kam Chancellor – also a fifth round selection – began earning starting playing time for the ‘Hawks in 2011.

“I thought he did great,” Warner said of Hufanga, according to McDonald’s column. “He’s playing behind me, so half the time I don’t really know what he’s doing, but it seemed like he was around the ball, being disruptive, and doing the right things, being in the right spots.”

The 49ers host the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, November 8. The health status of Cardinals QB Kyler Murray will be in limbo up until kickoff, but oddsmakers peg the Cardinals as 1-point favorites. The Niners played Arizona tough during their first meeting, a 17-10 Cardinals win back in Week 5.

This time around, Hufanga will be roaming the starting secondary. Will that be enough? Who knows, but based on his track record, he will certainly leave an impression.

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