As a sixth-round draft pick in the 2014 NFL draft, rookie cornerback Kenneth Acker faces a long and daunting road to ensuring he makes it onto the San Francisco 49ers' final 53-man roster at the conclusion of the preseason.
Sixth-rounders often face uphill battles when it comes to making NFL rosters. Acker is no exception, even considering the slew of offseason changes the 49ers made at the cornerback position.
Ahead of him, Acker has to face stiff competition from incumbents like Tramaine Brock, Chris Culliver, Perrish Cox and Darryl Morris, along with new faces Chris Cook, Jimmie Ward and Dontae Johnson.
All of these players are essentially ranked ahead of Acker on the depth chart, either because of actual NFL experience or higher draft stock.
But Acker has been making a name for himself during training camp thus far, and perhaps his best on-field performance came during San Francisco's second preseason loss at the hands of the Denver Broncos on Sunday, August 17.
There weren't too many positives emanating from the San Francisco side during that game, but Acker certainly carried his own weight.
Acker was on the field for a total of 25 snaps Sunday, per Eric Branch of SF Gate.
But a five-snap series highlighted Acker's accomplishments. During this span in the third quarter, the Southern Methodist project broke up a would-be touchdown pass, nearly recorded an interception (negated by an offsides call against fellow rookie Aaron Lynch) and drew an offensive pass interference penalty.
When asked about the biggest highlight of his day, Acker responded, via Tyler Emerick of 49ers.com:
"I would say the pick, but it got called back, so we can’t talk about that. The pass breakup, I made a nice read and got across the receiver without touching him, so I felt like that was a good play and it showed a little bit of athleticism."
This is obviously a good thing to see from a rookie who posted 128 solo tackles, six interceptions and 32 passes defended over four years at Southern Methodist.
Rookie defensive backs often struggle during the transition from the collegiate to the professional level. Acker will certainly have his setbacks, but performances like the one he gave on Sunday versus the Broncos are obviously a good sign.
But does he make San Francisco's final roster?
This is a much tougher question to ask, obviously. Examining the current depth chart, we should unquestionably tab veterans Brock and Culliver as San Francisco's Nos. 1 and 2 corners. Behind them, we'll likely guess that Ward earns the nod as the team's nickel corner.
Cox and Morris could also put pressure for consideration at slot and in the 49ers' overall plans in formulating their defensive backfield. Cook is another veteran option who has had some nice moments in the preseason thus far.
Perhaps the competition boils down to the battle between Johnson and Acker for a potential final roster spot. Johnson, a fourth-round pick, is two inches taller than Acker—6'2" compared to 6'0". Johnson's higher draft stock also stacks the odds against Acker.
But there are those who feel Acker has turned a vital page in his development.
Doug Williams of NBC Bay Area writes:
"Now, it seems, Acker is still learning and still improving. Niners defensive coordinator Vic Fangio went into this training camp in need of playmakers in the secondary. Recently, Acker is trying to show he belongs."
David Fucillo of Niners Nation goes into a little more detail in determining whether or not Acker fits into the final picture:
It seems like Acker is building a case to either make the roster, or be claimed off waivers. Looking at the 53-man projection from last week, how does he fit in? I think Perrish Cox has all but locked up a spot given that he continues to play with the first team defense while Brock sits. Would they keep 13 defensive backs, or do we see one of the veteran safeties get cut? Another option is releasing Chris Cook. He's shown some things, so I'm not seeing that with any certainty, but maybe he is the last one standing when the music stops.
Granted, one game combined with some promising moments in camp is anything but a guarantee when it comes to making a 53-man roster. Acker certainly falls into this category.
There has been a lot of promise from his perspective, but it complicates the overall picture in formulating San Francisco's secondary entering the 2014 season. As Fucillo writes, Acker is certainly making a case to be on someone's roster if the 49ers elect not to keep him.
If they do decide to place him on the roster, which player does he offset? Or will the 49ers heavily stack up their defensive backfield at the start of the season?
We can't be quite sure just yet.
Regardless, Acker is putting pressure on the remaining cast of San Francisco's cornerbacks—competition the coaching staff loves.
That in and of itself is always a good thing.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Be sure to check out his entire archive on 49ers news, insight and analysis.
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