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49ers mid-season review: Cornerbacks

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The San Francisco 49ers cornerback position was a big question mark heading into 2014. We break down how they performed, and what questions they face the rest of the season.

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Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers are closing in on the end of their bye week, and will be returning to practice on Monday. We are not exactly halfway through the season, but the timing of the bye is close enough that it makes sense to take a look at where everything stands. We will be going through each position over the next week. Thus far we have looked at the quarterbacksrunning backswide receiversoffensive linetight endsdefensive lineinside linebackers, and outside linebackers. Today, we move to the cornerbacks.

Perrish Cox

WPA: 9th out of 45
EPA: 11th out of 45

Grade: 6.4 (7th out of 69); 5.5 coverage, 0.9 run
Run Stop %: t-24th out of 54
Cover snaps per reception: 12.1 (t-14th out of 79)
Slot cover snaps per reception: 16.0 (16th out of 191)

Chris Culliver

WPA: 13th out of 45
EPA: 34th out of 45

Grade: 0.7 (28th out of 69); 1.1 run, 0.1 coverage, -0.5 penalty
Run Stop %: t-56th out of 89
Cover snaps per reception: 10.8 (t-28th out of 79)

Jimmie Ward

Grade: -4.3 (85th out of 107); -2.0 coverage, -1.3 pass rush, -0.8 penalty
Cover snaps per reception: 9.2 (t-64th out of 111)
Slot cover snaps per reception: 8.9 (t-13th out of 26)

Chris Cook

Grade: 1.9; 2.0 coverage, -0.1 pass rush

Dontae Johnson

Grade: 1.6; 1.4 coverage

Tramaine Brock

Grade: -4.5; -4.7 coverage

Arguably the biggest question mark the 49ers faced heading into the 2014 season was what to make of the secondary. The 49ers parted ways with cornerbacks Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers, and safety Donte Whitner. The 49ers went into the preseason with plans of having a starting cornerback group of Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver on the outside, and then Jimmie Ward as the nickel back, while having Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea in the safety positions.

Injuries quickly changed that up however, as Tramaine Brock was banged up for much of training camp with an ankle injury. Perrish Cox ended up getting the bulk of first team reps on the outside, which would prove just a little bit fortuitous once the season began. Brock suffered a turf toe injury in Week 1, and Cox immediately moved into the starting lineup. It's safe to say the move worked out well, as a Cox was the team's best cornerback by a long shot. He gave up some passes, but it seemed like every game he was making a huge pass break-up. After getting waived twice last season, he seemingly secured some kind of starting role even with the return of Tramaine Brock.

The 49ers drafted Jimmie Ward as a defensive back who could play both cornerback and safety. He got some practice reps at safety, but his rookie year has been about using him in the nickel back role. As with most rookies there have been ups and downs. And yet, we have seen signs of progress this season. He was torched in the red zone by Brandon Marshall in Week 2, but he did not let that weigh him down psychologically. A cornerback has to have the physical tools, but it also requires a mentality that can forget when things get ugly. Ward seems to have that going for him.

The big question is what happens as the group gets healthy. The team lost Chris Cook to a torn hamstring, which means Dontae Johnson will potentially see more playing time in a dime role. However, with Brock hopefully getting the rust off after a shaky first game back, and Culliver and Ward both getting back on the practice field, what happens with Perrish Cox. Does he replace Culliver at the other outside cornerback position? Cox has experience in the nickel, but he has struggled more there than on the outside, and the team has Jimmie Ward as a long-term consideration.