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49ers Cornerbacks: Long Look Back, Brief Look Forward

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Oh boy - here we go. We've arrived at the cornerback position, one of the top three needs for the Niners going forward. It could be second, but it does seem that the consensus around here is third, which I personally disagree with but nonetheless understand. It's a position that we all knew would be a weak spot at this point last year, yet the 49ers did nothing to honestly address the position. A seventh round pick and two undrafted free agents does not represent a conscious effort to improve a roster.

I do think the 49ers figured that they had some options at outside linebacker to help with pressure on opposing quarterbacks, thus assisting the starting corners. They did also address the safety position by drafting Taylor Mays, while expecting Dashon Goldson to play better than he did, while counting on the progress of Reggie Smith, too. In other words, the position was wildly misrepresented to them going into 2010. Hopefully they don't make those mistakes in 2011.

Nate Clements

Sacks Interceptions Tackles
G Sacks YdsL Int Yds IntTD Solo Ast Total
2010 - Nate Clements 16 1 5 3 46 0 72 10 82

Nate was the 49ers best corner in 2010, which means whatever you really want it to mean. His tackle numbers are up there, definitely good for a corner, but his tackling technique and ability to stop the runs and screens come with a notable lack of coverage skills on a consistent basis. There weren't many times where Nate actually shut a guy down throughout the course of the season, but he was successful more often than not, it seemed. When he faced anybody with speed though, there was nothing there, he would get beat with regularity.

His job is a tough one though, as he's operating with lacking safety help on the back end, lacking skill at the adjacent cornerback position, and lacking a consistent pass rush to keep quarterbacks on their toes. The lack of experience at safety and lack of a pass rush basically created the worst possible scenario for Nate to succeed in: the quick twitch receivers could get open almost immediately before the safeties could react and the quarterbacks were consistently ready to deliver the ball where it needed to be.

So under the circumstances, it's hard to hate on Nate for me in comparison to how easy it is for some folks around here. He's a sure-fire tackler and he's good against the run and sniffs out just about any screen. He's a solid corner who is losing a step that wasn't a huge step in the first place, so he looks worse than he is at times. He can probably be a number one guy still, but the 49ers drastically need some help from the top-end of the draft or free agency.

After the jump, we look at the other cornerback options on the 49ers roster, the 2011 free agents for the position and of course, the 2011 NFL draft ...

Shawntae Spencer

Sacks Interceptions Tackles
G Sacks YdsL Int Yds IntTD Solo Ast Total
2010 - Shawntae Spencer 16 0.5 6 3 0 0 38 4 42

Spencer was a let down in 2010, after exceeding everybody's expectations as a dark horse in 2009. In 2009, the 49ers could put him on a guy and he largely handled his business, but in 2010, he definitely lost a step. His tackle numbers are decent, and his three interceptions are good, but he was just consistently beat by speedier receivers and number one guys.

In fact, the only number one guy he was able to consistently shut down was Larry Fitzgerald, for reasons I don't entirely understand. The truth is, Spencer really looked lost for a good portion of 2010. There were stretches of solid play, but he showed he really can't be depended on as a second cornerback when the first one isn't a totally shutdown kind of player.

Tarell Brown

Sacks Interceptions Tackles
G Sacks YdsL Int Yds IntTD Solo Ast Total
2010 - Tarell Brown 13 0 0 1 62 0 22 2 24

It might be about time to start closing the book on the Tarell Brown experiment. He came into the league with some character issues that saw his draft stock decline considerably. He was a low risk, high reward player but he's turned out to be a low reward kind of guy. He's just not consistent by any stretch of the imagination and was shuffled in and out of the nickel corner role depending on how bad or good he happened to be playing. His best asset is speed, and even that isn't elite level, it's just better than the other corners on the roster.

Will James

Sacks Interceptions Tackles
G Sacks YdsL Int Yds IntTD Solo Ast Total
2010 - Will James 4 0 0 0 0 0 8 0 8

I had high hopes for James going into 2010, he's a good corner with a high caliber of play, but his inability to stay healthy has hampered him in the past. This past season, that was the story throughout its entirety. James would come in at the nickel corner position and play well, but he'd take damage and be out for weeks at a time. There's not much else to say, it's hard to say that signing him was a mistake at the time, but hindsight tells us it was so.

Phillip Adams

Sacks Interceptions Tackles
G Sacks YdsL Int Yds IntTD Solo Ast Total
2010 - Phillip Adams 11 0 0 0 0 0 4 0 4

Adams played a good deal of special teams and took a few snaps on defense, and actually looked good when he did. He's very raw, but has a lot of athletic ability and a solid eye for the ball. He suffered a pretty horrific ankle injury near the end of the season and that will be something to look at when considering his 2011 prospects.

Tramaine Brock

Sacks Interceptions Tackles
G Sacks YdsL Int Yds IntTD Solo Ast Total
2010 - Tramaine Brock 1 0 0 0 0 0 3 0 3

Brock came in as an undrafted free agent and didn't do anything for a good portion of the year. A lot of people were angry with him being on the roster and taking up space when someone like Diyral Briggs was lost. He played in the final game of the season and had a considerable amount of snaps on defense, but there wasn't a whole lot there. He looked good on one snap, then he got burned on the next. It is worth noting that he was, for some reason, covering Larry Fitzgerald a number of times.

Looking Ahead

It's clear that the 49ers need to address the position. They can't proceed with their current roster of corners. Spencer and Clements are decent options, but a big name draftee or free agent need to be in the mix. The nickel corner spot is also a question mark, and someone like Will James definitely isn't the answer. It's worth keeping an eye on Phillip Adams in that regard. It does seem to fit Spencer well, so if both he and Nate are back along with a rookie or big name signing, he could play the nickel.

One has to wonder if Nate will definitely be back though. There is the small matter of his rather large contract, coupled with his lacking production since the team signed him. They might be looking at possibly moving on, but that would hinge on a for-sure hit in free agency or somebody rather promising in the draft. The problem with looking at free agents is that the 49ers might be more tempted to pull the trigger on a guy in the draft with the uncertain status of the CBA.

Free Agency

Nnamdi Asomugha, Oakland Raiders: There are 32 teams that would be considerably better with this guy on the roster. Could the 49ers be a serious player in the Asomugha sweep stakes? I honestly believe that they can, if they were serious about improving the position. What do I need to say about him? He's lockdown, the best in the league at being lockdown.

Champ Bailey, Denver Broncos: I see the 49ers going for Asomugha, but not so much Bailey. I think 30 is the cutoff age at the moment, but Bailey is a very reliable guy even at 33 and if they DID sign him, I'd be plenty fine with it. If you put him on a guy, that guy is not catching any footballs. Simple as that.

Chris Carr, Baltimore Ravens: This is a solid option, but the fact that he's in a contract year and suddenly playing out of his mind worries me. I would be more than happy with him though, but I'd still need the 49ers to get one of the top ten corners in the draft to be totally alright with it.

Brandon Carr, Kansas City Chiefs: He's a restricted free agent, but he's young and there's an awful lot to build off of. He takes out secondary receivers, is good against the run, and occasionally will show a big name receiver what's up.

Brent Grimes, Atlanta Falcons
Ike Taylor, Pittsburgh Steelers
Antonio Cromartie, New York Jets
Josh Wilson, Baltimore Ravens
Carlos Rogers, Washington Redskins
Chris Houston, Detroit Lions
Richard Marshall, Carolina Panthers

2011 NFL Draft

One of the best things about this draft is the fact that I consider there to be cornerback talent through every level. The top two or three are obviously the most desirable for our Niners considering how big of a need it is, but I said quite some time ago that I felt as though there were starting corners available in the second and maybe even third rounds, and I stand by the statement.

Patrick Peterson or Prince Amukamara are obviously the top picks, and sitting pretty with the seventh pick, the 49ers could stand to pick either one of them. If they are both gone, or one is and the other is not attractive to Trent Baalke and co, I feel like one of the next top guys could be available in the second round. Jimmy Smith, Aaron Williams and players of that nature can all be solid corners in the NFL and I would be happy with either one. The point is that the 49ers definitely need to address it in the first two rounds unless they see some assurance that free agency will pay dividends for them.

Here's Draft Tek's big board, there's too many for me to type out this time. What say you?

QB | HB | FB | TE | WR | OT | G | C | DE | NT | OLB | ILB | CB | S | K/P | KR/PR