Talanoa Hufanga had a humble goal when he first joined the 49ers, hoping to be a Pro Bowl selection as a special teams player.
After a strong showing at 49ers training camp, however, the fifth-round draft pick might have a chance to earn a starting spot in the 49ers' secondary. Head coach Kyle Shanahan said as much during a press conference on Aug. 23.
“Yes, I think Hufanga with the way he's played these last two weeks and the way he's been in practice, I think he's definitely given himself an opportunity," Shanahan told reporters. "Obviously [S Jaquiski] Tartt has been out, PUP, and [S] Tavon [Wilson] has had a real good camp too here, so we'll see how that finishes out."
General manager John Lynch spoke to KNBR on Friday, and said the USC product is "vying to start" (h/t Niners Nation/Kyle Posey).
"Yeah, he does. Both in special teams and on defense. Opportunities in this league are earned. That’s exactly what he’s done. This guy is vying for a starting job.”
Donte Whitner, who himself once starred as a safety in the 49ers secondary, joined the praise party for Hufanga on Friday, telling KNBR he "has all the capabilities to play."
"He's detailed in where he's supposed to be, he anticipates routes, he's good breaking for the middle of the field, he's good at tackling, he's good at anticipating the short-yardage runs in the backfield that you see him make a TFL in the last game, and I'm just totally all in," Whitner said.
The tackle for loss Whitner mentioned came in the second quarter of the 49ers' preseason win over the Los Angeles Chargers, as Hufanga easily got into the backfield and blew up a handoff.
Jaquiski Tartt was activated off the physically unable to perform list this week, and likely will start Week 1 if he is able.
However, Hufanga has done enough to prove he deserves some playing time in different packages and could be ready to slide in if Tartt gets hurt.
Especially with Tartt's contract expiring after the 2021 season, Hufanga could be poised to slide into the starting role next season for the 49ers.
Between Hufanga, shutdown cornerback Deommodore Lenoir and versatile offensive lineman Jaylon Moore, the 49ers might have hit a home run with this year's trio of fifth-round draft picks.