SANTA CLARA — Miscommunication.
Tarvarius Moore was certain he knew where the 49ers intended to play him when they drafted him in the third round of the NFL draft last Friday.
“Definitely safety,” he said on a conference call.
The 49ers will play Moore at cornerback next season, which comes as a surprise, and not just to him. Moore is a free safety — that’s where he played at Southern Mississippi. College safeties rarely become successful corners in the NFL. Cornerback is a more difficult position to play than safety.
Generally speaking, defensive backs move from safety to corner, not the other way around. Think Ronnie Lott, who was an All-Pro cornerback for the 49ers before he became an All-Pro safety.
“I have no problem playing corner, so let’s try it out and give it my best and see what happens,” Moore said Friday in the 49ers’ media room before rookie minicamp. “A lot of teams showed interest in me playing corner as well for the same reasons — long arms, fast, good feet, good hips. I felt like that was a position I was going to have to learn or transition to.”
Moore fits the physical profile of a cornerback in the 49ers’ defensive scheme. He’s off the charts. He’s tall (6-foot-2), he has long arms (33⅛ inches) and he’s fast. He ran a 4.32 40-yard dash at his pro day. He would have been one of the fastest, most athletic players at the NFL Scouting Combine had the league invited him. It didn’t.
“I probably was an under-the-radar guy,” Moore said. “Not a lot of teams knew a lot about me. And if they did, they were trying to keep it under wraps. But, after my pro day, I was no longer that guy that you could just sweep under the rug.”
Before his phenomenal pro day, Moore never expected to be a third-round pick. “I thought I would have been a late-round pick,” Moore said. “I was projected seventh round or priority free agent. I thought I had a chance to make a team. I knew I had to have a good season to give myself every advantage, and I feel like I did that.”
Moore recorded three interceptions, 10 pass breakups and 87 tackles in 2017 — his only season as a starter at Southern Mississippi.
The 49ers noticed. They had Moore on their radar during the season. “They were definitely clued in before the pro day,” Moore said. “We kept in touch a lot. I can remember some days (49ers defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley) calling three or four times asking questions, like did I feel comfortable playing corner? Things of that sort.”
The 49ers thought Moore was their secret, their sleeper. Someone they might get late in the draft. That all changed when he ran a 4.32. “(Hafley) was kind of upset when I ran that and everybody else found out about me,” Moore said.
The secret was out — no reason for the 49ers to hide their feelings about Moore any longer. So they tried to bring him to the team’s facility for a pre-draft visit. By that point, he was already booked. He had 13 pre-draft visits with other NFL teams.