I think that it is safe to say that we were all shocked when the 49ers went with Chris Culliver with their 3rd round pick. We all expected them to go corner with that pick, but he seemed like a bit of a reach.
That said, this doesn't mean that it was a bad pick at all. Culliver probably has a higher ceiling than any of those players listed above; he also has a much larger "bust factor".
This morning I am going to look at a few different scouting reports of Chris Culliver and attempt to put it all together with some realistic projections of what his career will look like in the future.
Positives: Has very good speed... Has an athletic frame, possesses good height and adequate bulk to play the corner position... Versatility makes him a very intriguing prospect, has experience at every DB position and as a returner, is a good special teams performer. Good jumper, recorded a 38.5" vertical at the combine... Is equally good in both man and zone coverage schemes, will fit nicely on an NFL team employing heavy mix of both.
Weaknesses: Takes poor angles far too often, will get out of position to defend running plays in the open field... Will get caught looking in the backfield a little too often, reads QBs well, but is susceptible to double moves and play action... Started his collegiate career at wide receiver.
Culliver's weaknesses are something that can be fixed with some more experience and coaching. The simple fact that he began his college career as a wide receiver leads me to believe that it is the experience that has caused some lapses in coverage.
The 49ers linebackers are extremely strong in going side to side on running plays. Manny Lawson (if he re-signs), Patrick Willis and even NaVorro Bowman have exceptional lateral speed. This can easily help Culliver out on running plays; especially, if he is asked to place the nickel position which means covering the slot and recognizing offensive schemes.
Culliver can play two different secondary positions and contributes a great deal to special teams. This will only help Culliver endure himself to the 49ers coaching staff and enable a deeper look at extended playing time early on.
Positives: Showed good instincts as a free safety. While aggressive, Culliver was rarely out of position and showed the discipline to stay home on trick plays and misdirection. Reads the eyes of the quarterback and gets a good break on the ball. Normal acceleration with a late burst to close. Quick, active hands in press coverage. Understands zone concepts and due to his experience at free safety and cornerback, understands the role of each member of the secondary.
Negatives: Flashes good hands for the press, but gets off-balance and can allow the receiver too easy of a release. Loses a step as he turns to run. A bit grabby with his hands in man coverage. Backpedal is high and choppy. Generally a reliable open-field tackler, but can get out of control in his pursuit and leave cutback lanes.
This is pretty much the same thing we are hearing across the board in regards to Chris Culliver. He isn't highly successful at any one position, but understands the positions he is asked to play. CBS focuses on the fact that Culliver reads the QBs eyes real well. This tool cannot be overstated because even NFL QBs do show where they are going with the ball. If he is able to get good breaks on passing routes, Culliver can be an extremely good corner back with ball hawking skills
The aspect of his game that worries me is that Culliver gets off balance on the outside. I saw this a few different times on tape and NFL receivers will make him pay dearly for that. Hopefully, he can work on this moving forward
Synopsis: Listen, I understand that Culliver seemed like a bit of a reach, and might have been. But, reading more about him and watching game film I have come to a different conclusion. The 49ers do not need anymore #3 or #4 corners, they already have too many of those type of players. Instead, they need to get a player that can make a mark as a #1 or #2 corner. Passing up on Prince Amukamara in the 1st round and going with CK-7 in the 2nd round; the 49ers weren't going to get any of those type of players.
Instead, they decided to draft a player that has the highest ceiling of any corner not drafted in the first two rounds. With that, Culliver brings a potential bust factor. I have to give Trent Baalke credit for making a tough out of the box decision in the 3rd round. Johnny Patrick or Curtis Brown may be more "pro ready" right now, but their upside is nowhere near the level of Chris Culliver. They will probably be solid nickel corners in the NFL, but nothing more. Culliver on the other hand, has an opportunity to take that next step.
Prior to the 2010 season NFL Draft Scout had Chris Culliver ranked as the 6th bes corner in the draft and the 38th best prospect overall. An inconsistent season at South Carolina pushed his stock down, but the talent is obviously there.