San Francisco 49ers

Surprise! Safety Jaquiski Tartt ends up on 49ers with best friend

Virginia defensive lineman Eli Harold runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis in February.
Virginia defensive lineman Eli Harold runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis in February. The Associated Press

If you were surprised by the 49ers’ second-round selection of Samford safety Jaquiski Tartt on Friday, you weren’t alone.

Tartt was taken off-guard, too. In fact, he hadn’t even left for his own draft party when the 49ers called.

“I was honestly expecting third or fourth round, maybe, but I ended up in the second round,” said Tartt, who measures 6-foot-1, 221 pounds.

The 49ers’ pick in the third round had the opposite reaction.

Before the draft, Virginia pass rusher Eli Harold was considered a late first- or early second-round selection. Instead he tumbled midway to the third round.

Harold said on a conference call that he had determination and a sizable chip on his shoulder ever since a nephew, who was as close to him as a brother, and his mother died when he was 15. He said his drive increased on Friday.

“I just feel like I’m really going to use that as motivation to help push me through my career,” he said. “I’m never going to forget this moment. ... I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder. It’s just getting bigger.”

Harold said he’s never met Ahmad Brooks, who also played at Virginia and with whom Harold will compete for playing time. But he said he’s long been inspired by Brooks, and more recently by outside linebacker Aldon Smith. At one point, Harold used a photo of Smith as the background on his iPad.

“I really felt like I could be there one day, where his success level is,” he said. “A guy I could really model myself after.”

Tartt, meanwhile, is the third safety the 49ers have taken with a high draft pick since 2013. They took Eric Reid in the first round that year and used last year’s first rounder on Jimmie Ward.

That may be attributed, in part, to questions about the safety group.

Reid, for instance, has suffered three concussions in two seasons, including one that caused him to miss the final two games of 2014. The 49ers drafted Ward last year with a foot injury. He injured it again Nov. 9 and missed the remainder of the season. Ward did not take part in the team’s recent minicamp and general manager Trent Baalke declined to give a timetable for his return.

Baalke said Tartt’s selection was not related to medical concerns.

“In every sport, the one thing that’s common is you stay strong up the middle,” he said. “Why did we take (Tartt)? Best player on our board at the time.”

Tartt seemed eager to join the competition and noted that he and Ward have been talking about playing together for years. The two attended the same high school in Mobile, Ala. and became best friends in ninth grade.

“I was ecstatic; it was crazy,” Tartt said of rejoining Ward on the West Coast. “I prayed to God to put me in the right spot. He came through for me. I ended up on the team with my best friend.”

Tartt started playing football his senior year of high school and therefore was not recruited by the Southeastern Conference schools.

Still, he had some of his best games – and biggest hits – when Samford played schools like Arkansas and Auburn. He also looked good at the Senior Bowl in January against more well-known competition.

“I didn’t feel like my skills were too off the bigger-school guys,” he said. “I felt comfortable around them.”

Despite his size, Tartt covered the opposition’s slot receiver, which was Ward’s job with the 49ers last year. San Francisco’s decision-makers also had to be impressed that Tartt played nearly the entire 2013 season with a torn labrum (shoulder).

“Yeah, there was a lot of times – you can see it on film – when my arm just went dead and numb and I couldn’t move it,” he said. “And some games it got really crazy where I was really out there with one arm.”

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