49ers 2011 Roster Confidence, Cornerback: Nate Clements, Lockdown Corner?

SAN FRANCISCO - DECEMBER 12: Nate Clements #22 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates after an interception against the Seattle Seahawks during an NFL game at Candlestick Park on December 12 2010 in San Francisco California.(Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Well, I think right off the bat we can disqualify Nate Clements from the "lockdown corner" discussion, despite his own personal beliefs. The fact is that Nate gets beaten far too often in such bad ways to say he's lockdown by any stretch of the imagination. Every single one of us knows that Nate isn't the kind of guy you put on a receiver and forget about him the rest of the game, he's a guy that you use to his strengths and scheme around his weaknesses.

Unfortunately, when you've got a cornerback that is really good at some things and not-so-good at others, you need to have somebody else who is good at those other things. The eh ... problem there is: the 49ers don't. Shawntae Spencer had an excellent 2009, winning the starting job as the dark horse candidate and playing like a number two corner should. He was the most consistent player, but in 2010, it was clear that this was simply a matter of lightning in a bottle. Spencer regressed, the safety position regressed, and Nate Clements, well ...

Nate actually played pretty well, all things considered. His numbers in all categories were up from 2008 (he was injured for a good portion of 2009, so we'll exclude those numbers) and despite a few boneheaded mistakes, actually did what he was supposed to more often than naught. "More often than naught," is a kind of rough phrase because it leaves an awful lot of room for interpretation. 60% of the time is more often than naught - heck, 51% of the time is as well. But I'm thinking the number is of the higher variety.

The problem is his contract, something we've been criticizing since the day he put pen to paper and signed on as a San Francisco 49er. A player with a propensity for getting burned on the deep ball and being unable to handle speedy receivers who may or may not cough up the ball in dire situations when the game is on the line against, oh, let's say the Atlanta Falcons, is not the kind of guy you pay that much money to.

But the 49ers are, and even they land Patrick Peterson in the 2011 NFL Draft, Nate will be in San Francisco for another year, unless they also spend a second-round pick on a corner, which is a distant possibility. He's inconsistent, he's not always dependable, but he has his strengths in zone coverage and the ability to sniff out screens and stop the run. Clements has received a lot of undeserved flack, especially during the 2010 season and this offseason. He's by no means a perfect corner, but he's far from a significant liability on every down. Personally for me, if the 49ers get Patrick Peterson or Prince Amukamara, then I believe Clements will have a significantly better year. Safety help and a decent pass rush would be nice, as well.

So, to define the poll answers ... I'd say a '10' doesn't imply lockdown, but implies just a very good corner you have the utmost confidence in, in other words - something you probably shouldn't vote. A '7' implies above-average and and a '5' would imply a starter who should have a so-so year as the best (feasible) option for the 49ers right now that isn't named Nnamdi Asomugha. Below that - well - you know the rest.

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