While the 49ers do not have an immediate need at the cornerback position, there is some uncertainty at the position beyond 2013. Carlos Rogers didn't play up to his contract last year after a phenomenal 2011 campaign. Tarell Brown's emergence likely means he'll be in for a nice pay day himself in the next year.
This year's draft depth at cornerback makes it a prime position to target some young talent for the future. Southeastern Louisiana's Robert Alford has risen to the top of the class and should be one of the first five corners taken in 2013's NFL draft.
Vertical Jump: 40"
Broad Jump: 11'
3-cone drill: 6.89
- Excellent cover skills and speed: Alford has tremendous fluidity in his hips, allowing him to mirror receivers in and out of breaks. Best suited for a man-to-man style defense where he can utilize his incredible speed.
- Versatility: Alford lined up outside, in the slot, blitzed, played man and zone, and returned kicks while at SLU. He was especially effective lining up in the slot against small, shifty receivers. Alford is also a very proficient kick returner, showing skills at both kickoff returns and punt returns.
- Balls skills: Alford recorded 10 interceptions and broke up 24 passes in three seasons at SLU. He has a knack for finding the football and a willingness to compete for the ball even against taller, more physical receivers.
- Medical and age: Alford missed two full seasons at SLU including, more recently, missing the 2010 season with a shoulder injury. Alford was also recently diagnosed with Chron's Disease. While the disease shouldn't effect his ability to play (David Garrard also has Chron's), it is still a bit of a concern.
- Size and strength: Alford isn't the biggest or the strongest corner in the draft. While he typically exhibits physicality in press situations, he has the propensity to get pushed around by bigger and stronger receivers. This is also evident during run plays. If Alford becomes engaged with a blocker, he is often pushed downfield and out of the play.
- Tackling: The combination of lacking size/strength and incredible speed can lead to Alford missing tackles or taking bad angles. He does show a willingness to tackle, so scouts should feel that better technique can be taught.
Doing your homework: Here are some cut-ups of Alford vs. Missouri and Lamar. You can also see him vs. Northwestern State here. Clips courtesy of DraftBreakdown.com.
Why he fits the 49ers:
The 49ers could very well see a need for a true slot cover corner, depending on the future of Carlos Rogers. Alford is a perfect fit there and would match up solidly against the likes of Seattle's Percy Harvin.
Alford's versatility would give the Niners another weapon on defense. His ability to lock onto receivers on the outside in either press or off coverage scenarios would continue to allow the front seven to focus on stopping the run with little worry of exposing underneath routes or routes toward the middle of the field.
Alford's kick return ability will also give the Niners another weapon to consider on both kick and punt returns.
Why he might not fit the 49ers:
Alford's small stature lends some concern over his ability to exhibit the physicality the Niners defense has built a reputation on. The current corners on the rosters are polished tacklers. Alford is not. While he's not the worst, he'll need to prove he can make tackles in the flats and improve his angles on plays in which he's chasing down ball carriers.
Recently, his college defensive coordinator warned that Alford might not be mentally prepared for the NFL. Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh have shown in years past a willingness to let players learn before seeing the field so these issues could be overcome with a ‘redshirt' type year, especially as Rogers' return in 2013 appears more and more likely.
What they're saying:
On Twitter, DraftInsider.net's Tony Pauline noted at Alford's pro day:
Almost 15 teams at SE Louisiana to watch Robert Alford/CB...drills no 40...word from teams on hand is top 42 for Alford...— Tony Pauline (@TonyPauline) March 26, 2013
"Rob has always been more athletic than everybody, so he could just go on the field, compete and let his raw ability take over," Golding said. "But he didn't understand formations, split receivers and the routes that come off of them, coverages, he was like a freshman in that aspect of it. But he realized ‘this is the last shot I got.' And on his days off, he'd come in here and we'd watch film together. He became a student of the game, which helped him tremendously. He still has a lot of work to do, but I think he realizes it now."
Small school corners have become intriguing options for NFL teams in recent years. This year, Southeastern Louisiana's Robert Alford is turning heads as one of the best. Next to Dee Milliner, Alford might the best pure coverage corner in the draft. With an ability to fit into man and zone schemes and a penchant to play in the slot, he's versatile enough to fit into the plans of any NFL team.
Alford's biggest concerns are the recent red flags raised by his former defensive coordinator. While the remarks seem negative, I believe that Golding was trying to illustrate Alford's maturity in recognizing areas for improvement and his proactive approach to resolve them.
Alford is a special talent and with improvement in a few areas, he could very well become a shutdown corner in the NFL.