The San Francisco 49ers have a dire need at cornerback, heading into the 2014 draft.
The 49ers lost two of their top three corners in free agency as both Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers have departed, and Tramaine Brock is the only starting cornerback returning to the 49ers.
There are major question marks with the other corners currently on the 49ers roster. Eric Wright and Perrish Cox return, but are best suited for nickel or dime roles. Neither player is a top quality NFL starter at this stage of their respective careers.
The 49ers signed free-agent cornerback Chris Cook, who played for the Minnesota Vikings last year. Cook has never recorded an interception in four NFL seasons and was quite ineffective last year. He has a long way to go before he can be considered a quality starter in the league.
Darryl Morris is totally unproven and played mostly special teams in 2013, his rookie season.
Then there is the case of Chris Culliver. His legal problems have been well chronicled, and it is unclear if he will even be available in 2014. If Culliver is not in jail, he could be suspended by the league, or even cut, if the 49ers decide they do not want on their roster a player who has such character concerns.
In addition, Culliver is coming off a torn ACL, so there is no guarantee he can stay healthy and be an effective player. In 2012, the last season he played, Culliver was an adequate player but far from a star. There are too many question marks surrounding Culliver for the 49ers to consider starting him.
After assessing the situation, it is painfully obvious that cornerback is by far the most glaring need the 49ers must address.
Although Justin Gilbert is generally ranked ahead of Darqueze Dennard, the 49ers would have to move up too far to get him. Dennard will likely be available in the middle of the first round.
If the 49ers move up to around the 13-16 range in the first round, they should have a good chance at selecting Dennard.
This would likely cost the 49ers their first-round pick, number 30 overall, plus their earlier second-round selection, number 56 overall. If a trade partner insisted on an additional pick, later in the fourth or fifth round, the 49ers should still make that deal.
The 49ers are built to win now, as the window of opportunity is closing fast on this core group. They need two or three impact players who can step in and be factors rather than just providing more depth.
49ers general manager Trent Baalke made a bold move like this in 2013, as he traded up 13 spots and selected LSU safety Eric Reid. That has proven to be an outstanding move as Reid looks like he will be the 49ers' starting free safety and a Pro Bowl candidate for years to come.
Dennard is a very good cornerback, known for his coverage skills and consistency. Dennard played his college football at Michigan State, so he will be comfortable on the big stage. CBS Sports' Rob Rang says this about Dennard: "Confident, physical defender on the perimeter at his best providing man to man coverage and when attacking in run support."
At 5'11" and 199 pounds, Dennard has enough size to handle the bigger receivers in the league. He is also a good tackler and does not make a lot of mistakes.
Dennard, a consensus All-American and the first Jim Thorpe-award winner in Michigan State history, is not the athlete that top-rated Justin Gilbert is, but his consistency, physical toughness and excellent attitude make him a must for the 49ers.
He has shown good leadership skills and strong character, which is something the 49ers can use after recent negative off-field incidents involving Aldon Smith, Chris Culliver, Colin Kaepernick, Daniel Kilgore and Ahmad Brooks.
Selecting Dennard and pairing him with free safety Eric Reid will go a long way towards stabilizing a suspect 49ers secondary. Expect Dennard and Reid to be mainstays in San Francisco's defensive backfield for many years to come.
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