Ranking the NFC West Safety Tandems

Grant Cohn

The greatest safety of all time played for the 49ers.

I’m talking Ronnie Lott.

And one of the greatest safeties of all time is the 49ers’ general manager.

I’m talking John Lynch.

Imagine if those two had played together. What a tandem they would have been.

Where does the 49ers current safety tandem compare to the rest of the safeties in the NFC West? Let’s rank the duos from the worst to the best.

4. The Cardinals

Free safety: Budda Baker

Strong safety: Jalen Thompson

Baker’s most memorable play of 2019 involved George Kittle.

It was Week 9, and the 49ers were in Arizona. Kittle caught a pass, and Baker had a clear shot to tackle him. But he didn’t. Instead, Kittle stiff armed Baker and bounced him off the turf and scored a touchdown.

Baker looked like a teenager compared to Kittle.

Baker and Thompson are two of the smallest, least-talented safeties in the NFL. They’re a big reason the Cardinals ranked 31st out of 32 teams in pass defense last season. They need two new safeties A.S.A.P.

3. The 49ers

Free safety: Jimmie Ward

Strong safety: Jaquiski Tartt

Ward and Tartt are two hard-hitting veterans who don’t make mental mistakes or miss lots of tackles. They’re solid and dependable when healthy.

But they’re not game-changers. Tartt has intercepted just three passes in five seasons, and Ward has intercepted only two passes in six seasons. Both players usually react just a beat late during plays -- they don’t anticipate well -- so they don’t create many turnovers.

And both players tend to miss a few games every season with injuries. In 2019, Ward missed three games and Tartt missed four.

I’m sure the 49ers would love a more durable, productive safety tandem. But Ward and Tartt are better than average. And the 49ers have a young, promising backup -- Tarvarius Moore -- who picked off a pass in the Super Bowl, and could replace Ward or Tartt in a year or two.

2. The Rams

Free safety: John Johnson

Strong safety: Taylor Rapp

As a rookie last season, Rapp broke up eight passes and intercepted two. He was more productive than Tartt, who broke up two passes and intercepted zero.

Johnson missed 10 games last season with a shoulder injury, but he still intercepted two passes -- two more than Ward intercepted. In 38 career games, Johnson already has intercepted seven passes, and he’s only 24. I’m sure the 49ers would love to have him. Who wouldn’t?

1. The Seahawks

Free safety: Quandre Diggs

Strong safety: Bradley McDougald

McDougald is a solid strong safety who has intercepted five passes and forced four fumbles for the Seahawks during the past two seasons combined.

Diggs is a new addition. The Seahawks traded a fifth-round pick to the Lions for him last season at the trade deadline. He played just five games with the Seahawks, but picked off three passes. Diggs has nine picks since 2017. As opposed to Ward, who has no picks since 2017.

The 49ers probably wish they had traded their fifth-round pick for Diggs.

Comments (2)
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Mitchell Alan
Mitchell Alan

I'm still numb after the Niners signed no-interception, health-challenged Jimmy Ward to $28.5 million over the next three years, seriously harming cap space for other, more important players. Was the Ward contract a panic reaction, or what?


Budda Baker was a Pro Bowler last year. But, hey, I’m sure you know better.