Talanoa Hufanga tore his ACL on Sunday and will miss the rest of the season. His replacement is rookie Ji'Ayir Brown, whom the 49ers traded up to get in Round 3 of this year's draft, because they really like him.
Is it possible Brown is even better than Hufanga?
Hufanga was an All Pro last season, partially because he intercepted 4 passes on the No. 1 defense in the league. But he also gave up 6 touchdown catches. He can be a liability in coverage at times because he tries to jump routes and make big plays. He also struggles as a blitzer. In 53 career blitzes, he has just 2 sacks, and none this season. And when he does hit the quarterback, he rarely wraps him up.
When asked to assess Hufanga's performance this season, Kyle Shanahan said he hit a "lull" during the 49ers' three-game losing streak. You could argue the lull has lasted all season. Because through 10 games, Hufanga broke up only 3 passes, after breaking up 9 last season. He's not a playmaker anymore.
Enter Ji'Ayir Brown, a certified playmaker. He played a quarter and a half this past Sunday against the Buccaneers and broke up 3 passes, including 2 in the end zone, plus he intercepted one in the end zone. He made multiple big plays in coverage that essentially ended the game.
In addition, Brown was an excellent blitzer in college -- he had 4.5 sacks in 13 games last season at Penn State. Expect 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks to blitz Brown frequently the rest of the season.
The 49ers may have just found the missing piece to their Super Bowl team.