The San Francisco 49ers appear set to start Jimmie Ward at the free safety position in 2017, and that coupled with the release of Tramaine Brock means significant changes are in store at the cornerback position.
Ward and Brock had the most and second most snaps among 49ers cornerbacks. They were followed by Rashard Robinson, Keith Reaser, Dontae Johnson, Chris Davis, and JaCorey Shepherd. This year, the team signed veteran free agent K’Waun Williams, and drafted Ahkello Witherspoon (3rd round) and Adrian Colbert (7th round).
If I were a betting man, I would be willing to wager that the 49ers will be starting Robinson and Witherspoon as their outside cornerbacks when Week 1 of the 2017 season arrives. K’Waun Williams, Keith Reaser, and Will Redmond are likely the primary competitors for nickel work. I suspect Williams is the front-runner right now, but Redmond was no slouch prior to his ACL tear. The nickel competition could be a fun one.
Pro Football Focus has had an assortment of interesting information regarding cornerbacks, and the 49ers could be putting together a sleeper depth chart. Here are a few of the details they offered.
PFF has posted a couple different pieces of info about how Robinson compared against other rookie cornerbacks. Among rookies with at least 250 coverage snaps, Robinson was No. 1 in most coverage snaps per reception allowed. If you drop that number to 150 coverage snaps, he drops one spot to second. Some other notable numbers
- He ranked 10th in coverage snaps per reception among all cornerbacks with at least 250 coverage snaps.
- He allowed the third-fewest yards per coverage snap (1.07) and fourth-lowest QB rating (86.4) among rookie cornerbacks.
A week before the draft, PFF suggested that Witherspoon and Washington cornerback Kevin King could be good fits for the 49ers. The best part? Where they said the two players, “would be excellent fits in San Francisco’s new defense if available at the No. 34 overall selection.” If this does pan out, getting Witherspoon in the third round could be a steal.
Per PFF, Witherspoon saw his passer rating allowed improve in each of his three seasons at Colorado. He had a brutal 147.9 passer rating allowed as a sophomore, then 92.8 as a junior, and finally 50.9 as a senior.
PFF looked back at the 2014 cornerback draft class, and in the three seasons since they were drafted, Williams ranks fourth in fewest yards allowed per coverage snaps. It is worth noting he sat out the 2016 season due to a dispute with the Cleveland Browns over an injury. We don’t know what his numbers would look like with a full season under his belt, but prior to the injury, he was showing signs of being an impact player.