"Who is Chris Culliver?!"
I yelled it on draft day. Did you?
When the South Carolina product was taken by San Francisco in the third round, there were plenty of names left I had heard of -- he was not one of them. I usually make the mistake of latching onto college players with the hopes that they will become 49ers on draft day. Needless to say, I am usually disappointed, although Colin Kaepernick and Kendall Hunter were on my board this year.
The cornerback position was a glaring need on San Francisco's big board, but chose to postpone addressing it until the third round. I was at Radio City Music Hall in New York City when they announced the pick and was speechless after the fact. But I soon came to the realization that just because I hadn't heard of him, didn't mean he couldn't play ball.
After doing my homework on Culliver, I learned that not only is he a big physical defensive back at 6'0" 200-pounds, but he has the speed to go with it. With great athleticism, Culliver returned kicks for the Gamecocks, setting all-time school records in returns and yards. At the combine, he posted a 38-inch vertical along with an impressive 4.36 40-yard dash.
The numbers are always helpful when breaking down a player but nothing is more meaningful than game film. Game in and game out, how did he perform during his collegiate career? While Culliver had issues with durability at South Carolina, when he played, he was a top contributor for their team in defense and special teams.
What I like about Culliver is the fluidity in his hips; being able to change direction with the receiver and not get burned for a score. His instincts on the field are not quite there yet but that will come with game experience and development. What has me high on Culliver is that Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke snagged him up as early as the third round.
Culliver was not expected to go as high as he did, but we have to believe it was for good reason. Most critics and analysts were puzzled by the decision but often, for better or for worse,collegiate play does not translate to the pros. This is why we have Hall of Famers who entered the league as walk-ons or undrafted free agents.
He isn't a poor tackler and could in fact help in run support, having experience at both the corner and safety positions. He has good ball skills, an ideal frame for the position and could be one of the steals of the draft. The main element he will have to overcome is really the leap from the college to professional level.
Culliver should get plenty of opportunities to earn a spot as the 49ers third overall pick in a rebuilding secondary. With Carlos Rogers and Shawntae Spencer having veteran status over him, the young corner will likely get reps during the season in nickel situations. This is a league where sleepers are at every position; we saw Tramon Williams (Green Bay Packers) and Brent Grimes (Atlanta Falcons) step up for their respective teams as eager youngsters.
If Culliver is the real deal like management believes, he will show it and earn his way. There are few excuses for Culliver to not succeed in San Francisco. He is not competing with the Philadelphia Eagles cornerbacks for playing time, the job he is auditioning for is wide open and the coaches are behind him.
He no doubt has room for growth, so that is what the coaches will be looking for in him. If he doesn't show signs of development, who knows, San Francisco might shop him online next season. Only time will tell if Culliver is ready to be an NFL cornerback. So, like draft day, all we can do is wait and watch.
Follow me on Twitter: @DeSimone80