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49ers intrigued by Malik Mustapha’s versatility and intelligence

May 12, 2024 at 2:27 PM

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Last month, the San Francisco 49ers bolstered their safety group by drafting Malik Mustapha in the fourth round, providing insurance for a position with many question marks heading into the 2024 season.

Talanoa Hufanga continues to recover from the torn ACL he suffered in November. Ji'Ayir Brown gained valuable experience filling in for the All-Pro safety but is only entering his second NFL season. Additionally, the 49ers' other starting safety last season, Tashaun Gipson, remains a free agent.

Mustapha earned high marks from Pro Football Focus for his play against the run (87.5 grade). Although the 49ers finished with the third-ranked run defense last season, there were some inconsistencies in this area down the stretch.

"There's certain things we learned when we watched it and we're going to get it corrected," defensive coordinator Nick Sorensen assured reporters on Friday.

Another aspect of Mustapha's game that intrigued the 49ers was his versatility, with the defender showing great comfort playing multiple positions, including lining up in the slot.

"I just think with safety today and defensive backs today, you need to be versatile. Even linebackers," Nick Sorensen said. "I mean, look at what we've done with certain guys that have kind of been in different positions, and it's such a fast game and offenses look to expose you in certain ways. So you have to be versatile. We like when guys have the versatility (of Mustapha), but we also just loved his play style."

The 49ers already admired Mustapha heading into the NFL Scouting Combine. After meeting with him in Indianapolis, they loved the idea of adding him to their roster.

"He immediately stood out as one of the best Combine interviews we had the entire time," director of player personnel Tariq Ahmad told Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. "He was serious. He was personable. He was extremely intelligent. And you felt his passion for football. So that, on top of what we heard from the school, it confirmed everything we heard. And it made him a conviction guy for us."

Mustapha was equally impressed by the 49ers, particularly after his conversations with the team's general manager, John Lynch, whose safety career in the NFL earned him a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The two quickly forged a bond, discussing the nuances of playing the position.

"[J]ust awesome to just be part of an organization [with a] general manager that just has been a part of the game," Mustapha told reporters last week. "He actually understands his players, understands the game and is someone that can relate to us."

Ahmad expects Mustapha to enjoy a smooth transition from college to the NFL because of his intelligence and football character.

"He worked extremely hard to become the player that he is," Ahmad stated. "He's got excellent short-area acceleration. Excellent demeanor. Burst. Explosiveness. The thing he does at a really high level is trigger, process and react. You'll see that. He can close. He can really close at a high level."
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