With their first and only selection on the 2016 NFL draft’s second day, the 49ers managed to assuage two of Trent Baalke’s strongest draft desires in a single pick: defensive backs and torn anterior cruciate ligaments.
Will Redmond, the Mississippi State cornerback selected by San Francisco with the No. 68 overall pick, becomes the eighth 49ers’ draftee rehabbing a knee injury since Tank Carradine set this unstoppable train in motion back in 2013. Redmond also becomes the eighth defensive back selected over the same time frame (and of course, Baalke would add the ninth and 10th later in the draft), edging out offensive line (8) and defensive line (7) for the most of any position group.
As has often been the case with these #TeamACL selections, many in the draft community felt Redmond would have been drafted much higher if not for the injury, with NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah positing he could have "snuck into the back end of the first round" when discussing the pick. Time will tell whether the knee will slow Redmond down, but in the mean time, let’s turn to the tape and see if we can figure out what the 49ers saw that made them believe he was worth the risk in the third round.
Where he wins
Redmond’s athleticism is the first thing that jumps out at you when watching his tape. Due to the ACL injury, we didn’t get to see how he tested at the combine, and therefore no pSPARQ score, but there’s little doubt that he’s an above average athlete at the position.
On underneath routes, Redmond has the short-area quickness to stick with shiftier receivers, something that likely impressed the 49ers’ brass if they do end up playing him primarily in the slot. As most cornerbacks do, Redmond allowed a relatively high completion percentage on passes thrown under 10 yards in the air (70 percent), per Pro Football Focus. However, he was routinely in good position, allowing him to either challenge the catch or make an immediate tackle; 86.1 percent of the 115 yards he allowed in 2015 came in the air, with only 16 total yards allowed after the catch.
Redmond was more impressive covering deeper routes in the games I viewed. On passes that traveled 10 yards or more in the air, Redmond allowed four receptions on 13 targets (30.8 percent), per Pro Football Focus, with one interception and one touchdown allowed. He has the deep speed to carry receivers vertically—if you listen to Redmond tell it, he’s a "low 4.3" guy—and can recover if he gets beat at the line of scrimmage. Redmond looks fluid when turning and running with receivers down the field, and despite his smaller frame (5-foot–11, 182 pounds), he’ll go up and challenge receivers at the catch point.
Though Redmond didn’t necessarily look bad when lining up close to the line of scrimmage and playing trail coverage, he looked a bit more comfortable in off coverage. He shows a good feel for when receivers will break on their routes and he can drive on passes thrown in front of him.
Speed and athleticism might be the defining traits of Redmond’s game, but he’s a more physical player than his size would typically indicate. He’s not afraid to mix it up with bigger bodies near the line of scrimmage, both in the run game and on screens.
While outside press corner probably isn’t in Redmond’s future, he’s physical enough to get his hands on some of the league’s smaller slot receivers and re-route them at the line of scrimmage. Redmond was able to get in a good punch in press on multiple occasions, including this one from the Louisiana Tech game last year:
Where he struggles
Most of Redmond’s deficiencies stem from his smaller frame. The physicality he showed when defending the run and sticking his nose in the screen game came more from the aggressive mentality he plays with than pure strength or tackling prowess. In fact, Redmond is a pretty awful open-field tackler. Before the ACL injury, Redmond was on pace to miss "almost 20 tackles" last season, according to Lance Zierlein of NFL.com.
A typical Redmond tackle attempt starts with him ducking his head before hurling a shoulder at the ballcarrier’s feet. Wrapping up doesn’t appear to be a phrase Redmond has heard before. It’s not uncommon to see this from smaller cornerbacks, but "effective" isn’t really a word you would use to describe it either, especially when trying to bring down running backs or larger wideouts. The willingness is apparent, but the technique will need to improve at the next level.
Unsurprisingly, Redmond will likely have some issues with some of the NFL’s stronger wideouts, as the strength simply isn’t there. When you watch this play from the Texas A&M game last season—in which Redmond gets caught flat-footed and is sent for a ride by Aggies wide receiver Edward Pope—it quickly becomes apparent why the 49ers intend to have him begin his pro career inside.
Redmond’s aggressive nature means he’s prone to giving up a big play on a double move from time to time. Every big play I saw him give up save one came on a double move, including his lone allowed touchdown, which came in the Louisiana Tech game. This play versus Ole Miss in 2014 gives you the best angle of the plays I watched, allowing you to see Redmond bite on the tight end’s outside move before breaking back to the post for a huge gain (Redmond would catch up and make the tackle):
The bottom line
Many will scoff at yet another #TeamACL pick for Trent Baalke, and considering the strategy has yet to payoff, it’s understandable. Thankfully, comments from both Baalke and Redmond following the latter’s selection indicate that Redmond will not redshirt his rookie campaign, and instead should be ready to compete for a spot come training camp.
If healthy, there’s a lot to like about Redmond’s game. He’s a plus athlete with some nice cover skills and has experience in a wide variety of coverage types—man and zone, off and press, outside and in the slot. Given the type of defensive backs the 49ers have preferred in the top half of the draft in recent years, that sort of versatility surely appealed to Baalke & Co.
By selecting cornerbacks in the third, fourth, and seventh rounds, San Francisco clearly wanted to add some competition to the position. Once you get past Tramaine Brock, the 49ers are incredibly young at the position—they now have nine cornerbacks on the roster who are entering their age–26 season or younger—and have little in the way of proven talent. Pair that with a new coaching staff and Redmond will have every opportunity to get on the field early should his knee prove ready to go.