The cornerback position is a constant source of stress and doubt when it comes to the San Francisco 49ers. Ever since Nate Clements, the team has jumped from risky free agent signing to risky free agent signing and ... for the most part, they have turned out just fine. Sometimes better than others, and sometimes they've hung on just barely, but somehow the 49ers have generally ended up with a fairly decent secondary, and not just because of the talent at safety.
Of course, things weren't perfect. Last season, the wheels started to come off a little as the 49ers suffered from the loss of Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox in free agency. Tramaine Brock is a limited corner, Kenneth Acker was an up-and-down player, Dontae Johnson didn't shine as well as hoped and Keith Reaser didn't inspire much confidence.
Jimmie Ward was the exception. After many people, including myself, wrote him off as a draft bust, Ward came on very, very strong when he played corner in the second half of the season. He looked like a starting cornerback, and that's a great sign.
The 49ers have done nothing at cornerback in free agency and I don't anticipate they will. But is there somebody they should be looking at in the NFL Draft? There are some who think they shouldn't given the relative lack of experience already by the cornerbacks mentioned above but I personally disagree. But then again, I'm not a believer in Reaser and didn't like all I saw of Acker, despite his flashes of strong play.
But let's take a look at some of the cornerbacks available in the draft:
- Jalen Ramsey (Florida State)
- Vernon Hargreaves III (Florida)
- Eli Apple (Ohio State)
- Mackensie Alexander (Clemson)
- William Jackson III (Houston)
- Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech)
- Artie Burns (Miami [Fla.])
- Xavlen Howard (Baylor)
- Will Redmond (Mississippi State)
- Maurice Canady (Virginia)
- Zack Sanchez (Oklahoma)
- Cyrus Jones (Alabama)
- D.J. White (Georgia Tech)
- Jonathan Jones (Auburn)
- Eric Murray (Minnesota)
- Harlan Miller (Southeastern Louisiana)
- Rashard Robinson (LSU)
- Kevon Seymour (Southern California)
- Briean Boddy-Calhoun (Minnesota)
- James Bradberry (Samford)
- Morgan Burns (Kansas State)
So obviously, the big name there is Jalen Ramsey. He's an interesting player because he's been considered both a cornerback and safety depending on where you look, and I'm going to go ahead and list him as a cornerback. He's a game-changing player and could even be the second defensive back ever taken with the first overall pick if the Tennessee Titans move away from Laremy Tunsil or a quarterback-needy team doesn't trade up.
But after him, there are still talented players. Hargreaves, Apple and Alexander are all first-round cornerbacks in all likelihood, though I don't think any of them rate as the No. 7 overall pick. Personally, I think the 49ers need to invest another first-round pick in the secondary but in this instance, I feel like there are either other needs or they would need to trade down.
Fuller, Jackson and Howard are also players who could go in the first round. I think all of them are legitimate starter material and I would be happy with the 49ers getting any of them, but it would need to happen later in the first round to be worth it from where I'm standing.
What say you?