Sunday, we looked at some of the potentially undervalued wide receivers in the 2014 NFL draft. That’s only one of the two major needs for the San Francisco 49ers, so we should do the same for cornerbacks.
The situation is a bit different, however. The 49ers seem poised to select a cornerback in the first round, meaning it’s likely less useful to identify steals in the middle rounds of the draft; they don’t necessarily need two starting-caliber cornerbacks in this year’s draft.
That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t necessarily draft two, nor that they wouldn’t jump on a good value if they found it. It just means that these cornerbacks would likely be a second player taken at the position, rather than specifically filling the hole at slot corner.
With all that in mind, let’s look at some players, likely to be available in the later rounds of the draft, who I feel are being somewhat undervalued.
Kendall James, Maine
Kendall James made the first-team All-Colonial Athletic Association, helping lead Maine’s quite stingy secondary. It only allowed 165.4 passing yards a game, tops in the CAA. James excels with his timing and jumping ability; his 39.0-inch vertical jump was third-best among cornerbacks at the combine.
James is fluid in coverage and can handle both man and zone schemes with aplomb. He also has special teams experience, which is exactly what you want in a late-round draft pick.
Of course, his success comes down at the FCS level, as opposed to big-time college football, so there’d be some question as to his ability to transition up to the NFL level. He’s also on the small side, at only 5’10”, 180 pounds.
Still, he’s fluid, quick and has shown the tenacity to fight for and win balls in the past, albeit at a small-school level. As a Day 3 pick, James would be an interesting addition to the team.
Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma
Currently, CBSSports.com has Aaron Colvin as a seventh-round pick, but that wasn’t always the case. In the immediate aftermath of the 2013 season, Colvin, a two-time All-Big 12 selection and three-year starter, was considered a third-round talent.
Then the Senior Bowl happened, and Colvin tore his ACL. He may be ready for Week 1, but he’ll likely miss an entire offseason’s worth of training and preparation.
Is Colvin injury-prone? It’s possible; he does have a history of shoulder and concussion issues. This might stem from the fact that he’s a physical player who enjoys making contact; he is, if anything, overaggressive.
The 49ers have shown a willingness to gamble on injured players in the draft—see Tank Carradine and Marcus Lattimore from last year. Colvin might be their next redshirt prospect on Day 3, as he actually has met with the team. He’s worth a gamble, because if he gets fully healthy again, he’d be a very solid NFL player.
Colvin’s got prototypical size and ability for the cornerback position. He’s also played strong safety in college, giving him versatility at the position. He can play man-to-man or zone, he’s good against the run or blitzing, and he has a great work ethic. He’s exactly the kind of player the 49ers would love to add to their secondary, albeit probably in 2015, rather than this year.
Lavelle Westbrooks, Georgia Southern
Coming out of high school, Lavelle Westbrooks was an unranked safety prospect, who ended up having to go to tiny Georgia Southern to get playing time.
Once there, however, Westbrooks eventually moved to cornerback and became a second-team All-Southern Conference player. He’s tough and aggressive in run support, with excellent form when filling in running lanes. He’s still working on his technique from the cornerback position, but he’s making leaps and bounds.
He’s also got a lot of raw, physical talent. At 5’11, 186 pounds, he’s a larger, physical outside cornerback. He couples that with quick recognition of plays—which is impressive, considering his lack of experience at the corner position. He’s a developmental prospect, but there’s a lot to like there.
The lack of experience, however, means that his instincts at the corner slot are not up to NFL standards yet—he reacts, rather than cutting plays off before they begin. He’s also not very fast and can be burned on the outside. There’s a good chance he washes out at the NFL level.
The 49ers have three seventh-round picks, however, and using one as a flier on Westbrooks isn’t out of the question. He needs time to develop into a cornerback, rather than just a physical talent, but he has those tools to be refined into a solid player. At the very least, he could be a contributor on special teams.