Like most, when the San Francisco 49ers selected Jaquiski Tartt in the second round of the 2015 draft, my initial reaction was, “Who?”
The little known DB from Samford University made a name for himself at the Senior Bowl. With a great blend of size and speed, the hard-hitting safety became a popular name. After being drafted and playing in spot duty the last two seasons, Tartt’s opportunity for major playing time finally came in the 2017 season after injuries to Jimmie Ward in training camp and Eric Reid during the Week 2 battle against Seattle Seahawks.
He ended the season as the third-best strong safety on Bleacher Report’s 1000 list, and the 15th best safety overall according to Pro Football Focus.
Tartt has a reputation for taking bad angles, and Week 1 he did not disappoint. A blown assignment by a 49ers defensive back left Tartt in the open field with Panthers receiver Russell Shepard who put a move on the third year safety and trotted into the end zone for a 40 yard touchdown. Open field tackles are never easy to make but if Tartt is going to be the long term safety you’d like to see him make those tackles.
Against the Colts Tartt over ran a whole that eventually allowed rookie running back Marlon Moore a path to the end zone.
Tartt did his best work around the line of scrimmage. Whether in coverage or attacking running backs downhill, he often came out the winner. Especially if they left a tight end in to block him.
The 49ers did not blitz safeties often. In fact, K’Waun Williams was the most blitzed defensive back last season. However, Tartt does have the ability to.
Against the Colts, a safety blitz was called and former 49ers running back Frank Gore—who’s typically excellent in pass protection—looked to have no interest in block the 49ers strong safety.
In coverage, Tartt was up and down. The ability is there but at times he lacked technique.
Against Washington, he gave up a touchdown to second-year player Josh Doctson. If I were Tartt’s coach, I would have told him to trust his instincts. At the top of the route you can tell he saw what was coming but didn’t trust himself. Film study with newly-signed cornerback Richard Sherman should help him be more confident.
Also, he did not help himself with alignment. He was aligned too head up, making it easy for Doctson to cross his face. That close to the end zone you want to settle your feet near the goal line and anticipate the receiver breaking off his route there.
Against Dallas, Tartt gave up a touchdown to Jason Witten, but I have no complaints here. He ran step for step with the Cowboys tight end, pulled the left hand away, but Witten reached out and caught the ball with one hand. A wise coach once told me “offensive players get paid too,” meaning, sometimes you can do everything right and still lose because they put in work like you do.
At deep free safety early in the season he showed off his speed, range, and athleticism when he played center field and one-hand snagged a deep ball out of the air that was intended for Kelvin Benjamin.
Covering tight ends was a strength of his. Most times deep passes challenging Tartt ended with him winning the battle and the ball falling to the turf.
Quicker passes in the flats and down the seams seemed to be a strength of his as well and allowed him to flash his closing speed as well as big hitting ability.
Fit with 49ers:
The 49ers are trending upward and with the departure of Eric Reid, as well as Jimmie Ward entering the last year of his contract. Right now, a healthy 2018 season from Tartt is much needed. I like the fourth-year safety’s ability to cover downfield, but he’s best near the box working downhill, where he’s an exceptional talent.
Tartt overall has tremendous potential. His ability to play the pass, as well as defend the run makes him a chess piece in Robert Saleh’s scheme. If Tartt wants to take that next step, he has to fine tune his game, stay healthy, and be a film junkie to help him anticipate better in coverage. If he can be more consistent with what he flashed in a short 2017 season, the future will be bright for the 49ers at the safety position.
Media courtesy Terry Schmitt/UPI