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Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Is 49ers safety Ji’Ayir Brown poised for a breakout season?

Jul 9, 2024 at 1:04 PM

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Safety Ji'Ayir Brown is entering his second NFL season after five starts and 15 game appearances for the San Francisco 49ers last year. Brown's role on defense increased significantly when Talanoa Hufanga suffered a torn ACL.

A third-round draft pick, Brown finished the 2023 regular season as the 49ers' highest-graded safety (77.9) and the team's second-highest-graded defensive back. He amassed 35 tackles, two interceptions, and four passes defensed.

Justin Melo of The Draft Network predicts Brown will be a breakout player for the 49ers in 2024, calling him "another budding superstar in their defensive backfield."

"Brown established himself as a mainstay while endearing himself to Kyle Shanahan and defensive coordinator Steve Wilks," Melo remarked. "He played every single 49ers defensive snap from Weeks 12-16. Brown sat out San Francisco's final two regular-season games with a knee sprain."

New defensive coordinator Nick Sorensen should have no problem carving out a more significant role for Brown in 2024. Last season, the then-rookie safety returned to the starting lineup for the 49ers' final two playoff games, including the Super Bowl. Brown's 79.6 defensive grade from Pro Football Focus in that contest against the Kansas City Chiefs was his second-highest of the season, recording 11 tackles and intercepting a Patrick Mahomes pass.

Brown started alongside veteran Tashaun Gipson, who remains a free agent and is unlikely to return to the team. Logan Ryan, who joined the 49ers in December, retired in April. Hufanga hopes to return to the practice field sometime during training camp and anticipates being ready for Week 1.

While the 49ers used a fourth-round draft pick on Malik Mustapha, Melo sees the rookie more as a depth piece in the defensive backfield, providing insurance should Hufanga suffer a setback.

"Brown was ready for his opportunity when Hufanga suffered his knee injury," Melo noted. "He proved he's a big-moment player by recording an interception in the Super Bowl. Brown possesses the skill set and clear pathway to experience a breakout campaign."
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