How Top CBs in NFL Draft Would Fit in San Francisco 49ers Defense
Since free agency started March 11, the San Francisco 49ers have re-signed Anquan Boldin and filled needs at safety and backup quarterback. But they haven't fully addressed their cornerback losses—cutting Carlos Rogers and not re-signing Tarell Brown.
Sure, they've re-signed Perrish Cox and Eric Wright, and they gave free-agent cornerback Chris Cook a one-year deal. But none of those three is a sure thing to earn the nickel cornerback role alongside Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver.
San Francisco's biggest draft need is cornerback. The Niners don't have a bona fide No. 1 guy on the roster right now, and they have six of the first 100 picks of the 2014 NFL draft to find a future star.
Culliver is likely to fill Brown's role and start on the outside. This means the Niners could use a slot cornerback who excels in man coverage, though I'm sure they wouldn't mind finding the next Darrelle Revis on the outside and shifting Brock or Culliver to the slot. In general, the 49ers are always after defensive backs who are sure tacklers.
The following five cornerbacks—ranked in order of Matt Miller's post-combine draft big board—have the tools to contribute to San Francisco's defense.
Height, weight and 40-yard dash times via NFL.com. Prospect rankings via Miller's big board.
Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech)
Weight: 190 lbs
Miller's Ranking: 55th
If Kyle Fuller is available late in the second round, the 49ers would be wise to take him.
The former Virginia Tech star doesn't have any glaring weaknesses. CBSSports.com's Dane Brugler wrote this about his strengths:
Good route recognition and outstanding read-and-react quickness to mirror or plant-and-drive to attack. Above-average anticipation and cover instincts. Studies receivers and does his homework to know what to look for without hesitation.
Physical in run support and works hard to get off blocks. Closes in a flash with a fierce attitude. Heady and opportunistic player. Very good ball awareness and NFL ball skills. Good blitzer.
Doesn't that sound like a guy who'd fit in San Francisco?
The 49ers could insert Fuller into the lineup immediately because of his tackling ability. However, they might want to take a cornerback with more speed and fewer injury concerns—he had a nagging sports hernia injury during his senior season—with their first-round pick.
Fit: Instant nickel cornerback
Bradley Roby (Ohio State)
Weight: 194 lbs
Miller's ranking: 35
Bradley Roby has the size, speed and strength to be a premier NFL cornerback, but he didn't put it all together at Ohio State.
At times, he'd let receivers get a step on him, and instead of locating the ball, he'd interfere with them. That type of play will force an NFL player to the bench sooner rather than later.
That being said, he has the quickness and agility to play slot corner. NFL.com's Nolan Nawrocki had the following as strengths for Roby:
Terrific balance. Quick feet and loose hips. Easy change of direction. Flips his hips and has ample speed to run vertically. Can mirror off the line and shadow slot receivers. Sudden athlete. Plants and drives in a blink. Shows recovery speed.
As for performance on run defense, Roby isn't afraid to get dirty in the backfield, but he doesn't stop the run at the level that some of the other cornerbacks on this list do.
He's too talented to pass on in the second round, but the 49ers could do better than him with their first-round pick.
Projection: Future nickel cornerback
Darqueze Dennard (Michigan State)
Weight: 199 lbs
Miller's ranking: 24th
Darqueze Dennard's physicality would be a great fit with the San Francisco 49ers.
He played a lot of press man coverage at Michigan State, and for the most part, he shut down opposing receivers. However, he has a habit of holding receivers throughout their routes. He mostly got away with it in college, but that could change in the NFL.
CBSSports.com's Rob Rang had the following as Dennard's strengths:
Well-built for the position with broad shoulders, long arms and good overall musculature. Confident, physical defender on the perimeter at his best providing man to man coverage and when attacking in run support. Doesn't extend an arm in press coverage, instead quickly turning to run with receivers, demonstrating the fluid hips and acceleration.
Unlike Justin Gilbert, Jason Verrett (the two cornerbacks coming up) and Roby, Dennard isn't a burner. It's his competitive edge and refined technique that make him a possibility in the late first round.
Fit: Instant starting corner in slot or outside
Jason Verrett (TCU)
Weight: 189 lbs
Miller's ranking: 22nd
Jason Verrett doesn't lack speed, and like Dennard and Fuller before him, will consistently tackle running backs in space.
Verrett is also the shortest player on this list. His height isn't a deal-breaker, but it's noteworthy considering the other four cornerbacks on this list are at least 5'11".
Brugler wrote the following as strengths for Verrett:
Fluid body type with smooth hips to easily turn and adjust his frame. Excellent short-area burst and flexibility to seamlessly redirect his footwork to mirror receivers in space. Very good feel on an island -- baits and drives on throws with burst and timing. Improved instincts and awareness, not afraid to come off his man to make a play. Excellent ballskills and confidence to undercut routes and finish with the interception. Quick read/react skills. Adequate strength for his size and very active in run support.
I think either Verrett or Dennard is a possible pick for the 49ers at the end of Round 1. The former plays a bit faster (4.38-second 40-yard dash), while the latter is a bit taller. Both have the drive and talent to instantly contribute in the NFL.
Fit: Instant nickel cornerback
Justin Gilbert (Oklahoma State)
Weight: 202 lbs
Miller's ranking: 10th
On talent alone, Gilbert is clearly the best cover cornerback in the 2014 draft class. His combination of speed and size (4.37-second 40-yard dash) will make him a first-round pick (likely in the top 15).
My concern is his motor. Nawrocki had more on his weaknesses:
Is not as aggressive or physical supporting the run as you would expect for his size and is content letting others arrive first at the scene. Can do a better job discarding blockers -- a bit soft-tempered. Immature early with an inflated ego and spent some time in the coach's doghouse after coasting too much on his natural ability and making too many mental mistakes.
With these concerns in mind, I don't think the 49ers will trade up for him. They want cornerbacks who are hungry to tackle, and Verrett and Dennard look more interested than Gilbert in stopping the run game.
Of course, if he falls to the late first round, the Niners will have to consider him. He has all the tools to be a future No. 1 cornerback.
Fit: Starter on the outside