This is my news story on Day 2 of the 49ers’ draft.
SANTA CLARA — The San Francisco 49ers must have made their second- and third-round picks with the Seattle Seahawks in mind.
The Niners needed a cornerback. During the offseason they lost Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox, both of their starting cornerbacks from last season.
When it was time for the Niners to make their selection in Round 2 (they owned the 14th pick), two of the best cornerbacks in the draft still were available — Eric Rowe from Utah and Ronald Darby from Florida State.
The Niners passed on both of them and took former Samford safety Jaquiski Tartt.
Safety wasn’t a pressing need. Last year, the Niners spent a first-round pick on safety Jimmie Ward. Two years ago, they spent a first-round pick on safety Eric Reid. They also gave a four-year, $21-million contract to safety Antoine Bethea in 2014.
The Niners had safeties.
But they didn’t have one who could cover the newest division rival — Seattle Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham. He is by far the Seahawks’ best receiver.
Tartt is one of the only players in the draft who might be able to cover him. Graham is 6-foot-6, 260 pounds and runs a 4.56-second 40-yard dash. Tartt is 6-1, 218 pounds and runs a 4.52. Theoretically, Tart has the size and athleticism to match up with Graham.
“I’m not going to sit here and say a rookie is going to shut down Jimmy Graham,” Baalke said in the 49ers’ auditorium after Day 2 of the draft. “At times you’re going to single him. At times you’re going to double him. … But we feel good about (Tartt’s) ability to line up and cover people.”
Tartt lacks experience. He didn’t play football in high school until his senior season, and in college he didn’t cover tight ends — that’s what he told Bay Area reporters on a conference call Friday evening. “I covered the slot most of the time,” he said.
So what does he think his role will be his rookie year?
“I see myself playing on special teams first,” said Tartt. “I want to get out on special teams, make my name on special teams and learn as much as I can from Antoine Bethea and Eric Reid.”
Was Tartt surprised the 49ers drafted him?
“Yes I was. They have a great group of guys in that secondary.”
When did Tartt expect to get drafted?
“Honestly, the third or fourth round maybe. But I ended up in the second. I’m just thankful.”
How surprised was he when the 49ers picked him?
“I was ecstatic. It was crazy. I prayed to God to put me in the right spot and he came through for me. I end up on the team with my best friend.”
Tartt was referring to Jimmie Ward, his high school teammate. “I met him my ninth grade year,” said Tartt. “I was around 14 years old … in college, that’s when we became a whole lot closer because we used to compete every Saturday. We used to compare our stats, talk before the game like, ‘I’m going to go out and do this today or that today.’ We just used to compete however we could.”
After the Niners picked Tartt, they drafted someone else to help them match up with the Seahawks — former Virginia outside linebacker Eli Harold. Harold is one of the most explosive edge-rushers in the draft. He recorded 17.5 sacks and 36.5 tackles for loss in three collegiate seasons.
But that’s not why he helps the Niners match up with Seattle. The Niners already have a couple of quality pass-rushers — Aldon Smith and Aaron Lynch.
But those two aren’t fast enough to catch Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. Wilson runs a 4.55-second 40-yard dash. Lynch runs a 4.69 and Smith runs a 4.82 — Wilson literally runs circles around them. He buys as much time as he wants behind the line of scrimmage because the Niners just can’t catch him.
Until now. Harold ran a 4.60-second 40-yard dash at the combine in February. If one pass-rusher on the 49ers can track down Wilson, it’s Harold.
Although he probably won’t play defense right away. He’s behind Smith, Lynch and Ahmad Brooks at outside linebacker on the 49ers’ depth chart.
“It’s the best situation for me,” Harold said on a conference call. “Not being high on the depth chart, learning from the veteran guys will really help me out a lot.”
What does he think he can bring to the 49ers?
“I’m going to bring a lot of passion, toughness. I feel like I’m a natural-born leader. I feel like I learn very quickly and I’m an athletic guy. I feel like I can make noise on special teams and do whatever the coach asks me to do.”
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.