We've got just two positions left in our review of the San Francisco 49ers roster from 2014. We're taking a long look back and a brief look forward -- and free agency is almost here so I suppose I can't put these last two positions off any longer. If you want one of the previous looks, I've linked them at the bottom of this article. What we've got left: cornerbacks and defensive linemen.
Today, we're going to cover the cornerback position. Personally, I think this is one of the toughest positions to cover but I'm going to do what I can anyway. For instance, I can point to a couple truly terrible performances from, say, rookie Jimmie Ward, but I also think that those performances should have prompted the 49ers to make a change, and they did not. I thought Ward was thrown into the frying pan and he did not rise to the occasion.
So naturally, he gets a bad rating, right? It only makes sense -- but I really do like his potential, and I want to get things like that across. There also were a ton of players who played cornerback for the 49ers last season. So let's just get into this, shall we?
Tramaine Brock - 3 games, 7 tackles
Well, this sure was a disappointment, wasn't it? You may remember that way back when in 2010 and 2011, I was incredibly angry the 49ers kept Brock around despite the fact that he showed little potential. I don't even remember who was left off the roster that I was so upset about, but Brock suddenly started ... doing things in 2013. He caught five interceptions and was certainly above average. He earned a starting role coming in 2014, and probably has one going into 2015. That's primarily due to goodwill built up in 2013 though, as Brock missed most of the season due to injury.
Perrish Cox - 15 games, 53 tackles, 5 interceptions, 18 pass breakups, 2 fumble recoveries
Cox is a successful reclamation project at this point. Out of the league for some time and signed originally to get in some work as a dime corner, Cox really emerged last season when Brock went down with an injury. He started 14 games this past season, the most he's played in his career, and looked solid more often than naught. He's 28 years old and I thought he earned himself a pretty decent payday. He's set to become a free agent. The 49ers have a solid chance of bringing him back though, as the second half of his season was noticeably worse than the beginning.
Chris Culliver - 14 games, 45 tackles, 4 interceptions, 15 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery
Then there's Culliver, who has drawn my ire for being weaker against the deep ball despite the fact that he's the fastest cornerback on the team. Culliver has shown flashes of top-tier play in the past, but saw his 2013 season cut short due to injury. He didn't look quite as good as Cox, but he routinely faced better receivers than Cox and graded out positively in my book. He's shown consistent flashes of top tier play which ... probably put him out of San Francisco's price range going forward. The second half of the season was notably much stronger for Culliver, which gives him the hype.
Dontae Johnson - 16 games, 34 tackles, 1 interception, 6 pass breakups
I honestly liked what I saw from Johnson quite a bit. He got downright mauled by some receivers, but what I discussed with Ward above also applies for Johnson. He played a lot as a rookie and I thought more often than naught, he rose to the occasion. In fact, I thought he looked particularly solid in the role many thought he'd struggle: the nickel spot. I also think he has a higher ceiling than Ward when it comes to the cornerback position.
Jimmie Ward - 8 games, 20 tackles
Ward had his season cut short by injury, but he didn't really show much prior to said injury. He got beat a lot and did not look like a good fit at the nickel spot ... he's probably a better safety at this point. But he's got a long way to go and I could be totally wrong. Brandon Marshall flat out took Ward to school to the tune of three touchdowns in Week 2 and that was rough. Whatever the case, Ward showed improvement down the stretch, but had his season cut short by injury.
Chris Cook - 6 games, 6 tackles, 1 pass breakups
Cook played in just six games before he was placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. I thought he looked solid overall, and didn't really get beat big time at any point. It was a small sample size though, and Cook was eventually replaced by Johnson. Cook is a solid backup and camp body.
Then there's guys like Kenneth Acker, Keith Reaser, Leon McFadden and Marcus Cromartie. Honestly, there's not much to say about them at this point. Reaser spent the season on the NFI list after two ACL surgeries and who knows where that is going to go, while Acker was also a rookie and has a questionable ceiling. Both McFadden and Cromartie were brought in due to injuries and come in somewhere beneath Cook in the backup hierarchy.
As I said above, I think Brock is in line for a starting spot next season regardless. He built up plenty of goodwill in 2013 and deserves a chance to start again. Then there's the No. 2 spot ... and that's where Culliver and Cox are important. They're both set to become free agents and the 49ers have to figure out if they're bringing back one or the other. Then there's Ward and Johnson, who could be in for the nickel spot, though I personally like Johnson as a potential starter.
Whatever the case, here's a list of some free agent cornerbacks, though I expect the 49ers will try and get one of Culliver or Cox:
Brandon Flowers, San Diego Chargers
Antonio Cromartie, Arizona Cardinals
Byron Maxwell, Seattle Seahawks
Tramon Williams, Green Bay Packers
Kareem Jackson, Houston Texans
Rashean Mathis, Detroit Lions
Tarell Brown, Oakland Raiders
Zachary Bowman, New York Giants
Robert McClain, Atlanta Falcons
Patrick Robinson, New Orleans Saints
Cary Williams, Philadelphia Eagles
Carlos Rogers, Oakland Raiders
Cortland Finengan, Miami Dolphins
Davon House, Green Bay Packers
Then there's the NFL Draft and while I doubt the 49ers use a high pick on a cornerback, if someone falls it certainly wouldn't be totally out of the realm of possibility. Here's some rankings from SB Nation's Dan Kadar, from December for a quick look at some of the top names.