Each week leading up to the start of training camp, 49ers.com will assess the team's roster as we get closer to the season. In this installment of the 2023 roster breakdown, 49ers.com is diving in to the team's secondary and breaking down the defensive backs and safeties.
Returning starters at safety Talanoa Hufanga and Tashaun Gipson Sr. are looking to build on the chemistry they established in the 49ers secondary last season. As Hufanga enters his third season with San Francisco, he's shared the importance of becoming more of a vocal leader in the 49ers locker room.
"My thing is, I'm really loud and talkative on the field, as they want me to be," Hufanga said. "I want to be better in the classroom for everybody else and be more of a teacher too. Anytime you can teach and lend a hand, I think it helps yourself as well. If I can do that, it can elevate everybody else around us as well."
A player on the rise in the 49ers classroom is defensive back Deommodore Lenoir. The third-year pro made NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks' 2023 NFL All-Breakout Team as a player who is "poised for prominence" in 2023.
Joining the squad this year are newly acquired free agent Myles Hartsfield from the Carolina Panthers and San Francisco's first pick in this year's draft Ji'Ayir Brown out of Penn State, who garnered a lot of praise from his newest teammates and coaching staff throughout his first days at the 49ers facility.
"When you look at a guy like Ji'Ayir Brown, he has the DNA we are looking for on defense," defensive backs coach Daniel Bullocks said. "A guy that's physical, that's smart, that can finish."
- Deommodore Lenoir (3rd Season)
- A.J. Parker (2nd Season)
The San Francisco 49ers took four safeties into the 2022 season: Gipson Sr., Hufanga, Odum and Tarvarius Moore. The 49ers defense finished the regular season with 20 interceptions, tying the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most interceptions in the league. Ten of the team's takeaways came from the safety position, led by Gipson Sr., who had a team-leading five interceptions. Second-year All-Pro safety Hufanga finished second with four and Odum also recorded an interception.
Defensive Backs Breakdown
Lenoir enters his third season in the NFL this year. The defensive back made appearances in all 17 games for the 49ers, starting in 13. He recorded 54 total tackles (six tackles for loss), two quarterback hits, an interception and five passes defended during the 2022 regular season. Lenoir rode his momentum into the playoffs, coming away with a pick in two of the 49ers three postseason contests.
"The game slowed down a lot for me, just with getting the reps all last year," Lenoir said. "This year, it's time to just take the next step and be one of the next corners in the league."
Parker spent his first two seasons in the NFL with the Detroit Lions (2021-22). Throughout his career, Parker has appeared in 16 games (seven starts) and registered 61 tackles, seven passes defensed, one interception and one forced fumble.
In January, the 49ers signed Parker to a Reserve/Future contract.
A safety out of Penn State, Brown was the first of three third-round draft picks selected by the 49ers in this year's NFL Draft. He appeared in 35 games (26 starts) in three years at Penn State and registered 153 tackles, 19 passes defended, 10 interceptions, nine tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries after transferring from Lackawanna Community College where he spent two seasons (2018-19). In 2022, Brown started in all 13 games, earning Third-Team All-Big Ten honors for the second-consecutive season.
Gipson Sr. is entering his 12th year in the league and second year with the 49ers. After starting in all 17 games for the 49ers last season, the safety finished with 61 total tackles, a tackle for loss, eight passes defended and a team-leading five interceptions returned for a total of 141 yards.
In March, the 49ers re-signed Gipson Sr. to a one-year deal.
Hartsfield originally entered the NFL after signing with the Carolina Panthers as an undrafted free agent ahead of the 2020 season. In his three-year career with Carolina (2020-22), the safety appeared in 41 games (19 starts) and registered 115 tackles, seven passes defended, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble and a sack. In 2022, Hartsfield appeared in 15 games (10 starts) and recorded 58 tackles, two passes defended and one forced fumble.
Hawkins originally joined the 49ers as an undrafted free agent ahead of the 2022 season, spending the year on the team's practice squad. In January, the 49ers signed Hawkins to a Reserve/Future contract.
Hufanga is coming off a season of career firsts, earning AP First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors in his sophomore campaign. He capped off the 2022 regular season with 97 total tackles, four interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), 2.0 sacks and two forced fumbles.
Odum is entering his sixth year in the league and second with the 49ers since joining the team last year in free agency. In his first season with San Francisco, Odum earned AP Second-Team All-Pro honors, his first selection since earning First-Team honors in 2020. Odum recorded a league-high 21 tackles on punt and kickoff returns during the 2022 season, the most by a member of the 49ers since at least 2001.
Young appeared in 57 games (54 starts) in his five-year career at Rutgers (2018-22) and registered 326 tackles, 26 passes defended, 10.0 tackles for loss, five forced fumbles, three interceptions, 3.0 sacks and one fumble recovery. In 2022, Young started all 12 games and registered 84 tackles, five passes defended, two tackles for loss, an interception, 1.0 sack and a forced fumble, earning All-Big Ten Honorable Mention honors.
In May, Young agreed to terms with the 49ers to become an undrafted free agent.