Each year, we run a series of post called "90-in-90" here at Niners Nation. The idea is that we'll take a look at every single player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few different ways. This is to help give everyone a basic understanding of a roster. Of course, this roster will change, and some days we'll have more than one so it's not strictly one per day but you get the idea.
An undrafted free agent out of Saint Francis, Lorenzo Jerome has had many 49ers fans excited over the course of this offseason. He was an incredibly productive player at the college level where he contributed in a variety of ways in addition to playing safety and slot corner - he returned kicks and punts to a high level, parlayed his high school experience as a quarterback into two successful passing attempts (of 58 and 33 yards), was used as a rusher and he even caught a 48 yard touchdown pass as a senior.
Most significantly for 49ers fans, Jerome has earned himself a reputation as a ball-hawk. He pulled in 18 interceptions in 4 seasons (including 6 as a senior) at college, was a standout performer at the Senior Bowl and the NFLPA Game where he pulled in two interceptions in each match and has continued to demonstrate his nose for the football as a member of the 49ers this offseason. According to John Lynch, who compared Jerome to Ronde Barber, Jerome led to the team in interceptions in OTAs. In addition to his exceptional hands and instincts, he is also physical and willing in run support.
Despite the above traits, it is undoubtedly the lower level of competition that led to Jerome going undrafted, in addition to questions about his athleticism. He partly answered the questions surrounding his athleticism by improving his 4.7 40 yard dash at the NFL Combine to 4.53 at his Pro Day but his ability to compete athletically at the NFL level remain to be seen.
Experience: Rookie year
Jerome is in the first season of a three year contract. He is slated to earn $465,000 in base salary, with an identical cap hit. Cutting him would leave no money counting against the 49ers cap.
What to expect
One thing that is almost guaranteed about Jerome is that if he finds himself between a receiver and a ball it’s a drive-ender for an offense. With sensational hands and instincts to put himself into position to make a play on the ball, Jerome sounds like the perfect candidate to be the deep centre-field eraser that the 49ers need. It remains to be seen if Jimmie Ward is going to be that player.
However what is under question is whether Jerome will be able to adjust to the massively increased level of competition and athleticism in the NFL, and thus be able to get into position to make the plays that have made him such an intriguing prospect. It is indisputable that thus far, Jerome has elevated his performances as he has progressed through the collegiate game and into the pro ranks via the NFLPA and Senior Bowls but the quality he will face on Sundays in August, let alone in September and onwards, will be far greater than anything he has faced.
If he does see the field expect to see Jerome mixing it up in run support and making plays across the field, but early on he is likely to be a special teams player, where he has the traits to be a stud. From there, we could see him work his way into what promises to be a very interesting defensive backfield rotation and competition as the 49ers have an incredibly versatile set of defensive backs.
Odds of making the roster
Jerome finds himself in an interesting position. As a highly regarded UDFA and a good fit at the free safety position - a position the 49ers are thin at - Jerome should have a much higher chance at making the roster than the average UDFA.
Furthermore, he has reportedly performed well thus far in the offseason, with John Lynch offering praise for him as a guy who has stood out. Jerome has also seen some snaps as a slot corner as the 49ers look to ascertain how valuable and versatile he can be at the NFL level. His ability to return kicks if necessary also adds to his value, though the 49ers would appear to have a lot of options for this role. His tackling abilities can see him get work early and often on special teams.
The optimist in me rates Jerome’s chances at about 60-40 to make the 53 man roster, though he would certainly be someone the team would be keen to stash on their practice squad in the event he did not make it. Fears about losing this option via another team claiming him could see the 49ers keeping him on the 53. Jerome is undoubtedly an extremely exciting prospect, one who the 49ers would likely consider keeping instead of Don Jones due to his potential and already well rounded skill set.