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Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Safety uncertainty could earn this 49ers undrafted free agent a roster spot

Jun 24, 2024 at 10:08 AM

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San Francisco 49ers safety Talanoa Hufanga has his sights set on starting Week 1. The All-Pro defender is returning from a torn ACL he suffered this past November, which abruptly ended his 2023 campaign.

"The goal is to be ready by Week 1," Hufanga said earlier this month. "The goal is to be in training camp, not at the very beginning, but to ramp me up correctly, just so it's not throw you out there to the wolves and good luck. But trying to be smart with it."

Nothing is certain. While Hufanga appears to be progressing well, team coaches and medical staff will take a cautious approach and monitor his progress during training camp.

If Hufanga can't get back on the field in time for the 49ers' regular-season opener against the New York Jets on September 9, it might open the door for one undrafted free agent to earn a roster spot. At least, that's what Justin Melo of The Draft Network believes. He views Jaylen Mahoney as "an underdog worth paying attention to," believing the defensive back possesses the skill set to impress his new coaches.

"Mahoney did not receive an invite to this year's NFL Scouting Combine, but he did achieve intriguing workout numbers at Vanderbilt's Pro Day," Melo wrote. "The Rock Hill, South Carolina native posted 19 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, just three shy of the combine leader among all safeties, Malik Mustapha, whom the 49ers drafted in the fourth round. Mahoney also ran an acceptable 4.54 40-yard dash."

Mahoney finished his collegiate career with 247 tackles, 16 for a loss, 18 passes defensed, four interceptions, and four sacks, according to Pro Football Reference. The defensive back earned a career-high 59 tackles in his final season with the Commodores.

"The 49ers appreciate defensive backs who play with toughness, versatility, and strength," Melo commented. "Mahoney, who played every position in the defensive backfield for Vanderbilt, possesses all three traits in spades. His ability to move around the formation will endear itself to new defensive coordinator Nick Sorensen throughout training camp and the preseason."

Even if Hufanga is ready for the start of the season, Melo can still see Mahoney earning a roster spot, beating out others like Erik Harris and Tayler Hawkins. The 49ers failed to bring back one starter from last season, Tashaun Gipson, which will likely result in Hufanga and second-year safety Ji'Ayir Brown lining up in the backfield unless another roster move is made.

Melo adds, "Other 49ers undrafted free agents worth monitoring throughout the summer include interior offensive linemen Drake Nugent and former Missouri running back Cody Schrader."

If Mahoney's versatility and toughness shine through in training camp, he could earn a role on the 49ers' roster, further solidifying the team's depth in the secondary.
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