The San Francisco 49ers have a host of needs to address this offseason, and cornerback is a major one. Ahkello Witherspoon emerged as a serious starting option after a slow start the first month of the season. He seemed to lack the strength necessary coming out of college to play in a more physical scheme, but after a shaky training camp, he emerged as a presence in the secondary.
Dontae Johnson started opposite him and struggled as teams picked on him regularly. He is a free agent after this season, and odds seem pretty decent the 49ers do not attempt to re-sign him. They have K’Waun Williams and Greg Mabin also returning, but they will likely be in the market for a No. 1 or No. 1a type of cornerback.
With a ton of cap space and draft picks, the 49ers could invest in the position in a variety of ways. Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller approached it from the draft perspective in his latest 2018 NFL mock draft. Miller put together a two-round mock draft that has the 49ers selecting Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward in the first round, and Miami running back Mark Walton in the second round. Here’s what Miller had to say about Ward:
Denzel Ward was a starter for just one year at Ohio State, so it’s OK if you aren’t super familiar with him yet or are a little confused about listing him as the No. 10 overall pick. Trust me on this—you will be hearing a lot more about him from now until the draft.
Ward is a touch undersized at 5’11”, 190 pounds, but he’s insanely quick, aggressive and athletic. Playing at the line of scrimmage, he’s able to use his length and toughness well in press coverage. You can’t watch Ohio State film without marveling at his recovery speed and instincts.
I would not be surprised if the 49ers went with a cornerback early in the draft, but it will depend on what they do in free agency. The team could try and invest heavily in a Trumaine Johnson, in which case, their draft need at cornerback drops considerably. They would most definitely need more depth at the position, but if they signed Johnson, they would almost certainly not be drafting a cornerback in the first round.
The 49ers are in a position where they can be extremely aggressive in free agency. Each signing does not foreclose that position being selected in the draft, but the bigger signings will offer hints at which positions might drop on the scale of importance in April.