It’s time to spin the wheel and guess what type of moves the San Francisco 49ers will make this offseason. We’ve talked plenty about edge rushers, but cornerback is a big need as well. More specifically, I believe right outside corner is a big need.
Ahkello Witherspoon and Tavarius Moore both started opposite Richard Sherman, but neither really set themselves apart as the clear cut starter. There will be several free agent corners hitting the market. I took the time to look through the list posted in a previous article, along with some additional research on the interweb. The 49ers have a template for their outside players and that eliminated plenty of candidates. First off, I eliminated several players simply based on height. All of our outside corners are over 6’0. The one exception is Jimmie Ward, but he only ended up out there due to injuries. Some popular players like Bradley Roby, and Steven Nelson simply don’t make the cut based on their current model.
I then looked at age. Of the list over 6’0 there isn’t a proven veteran that is a legit upgrade, a’la Sherman, so I leaned towards young guys who could push for time opposite Sherman. I then looked at playing time — I’d want a corner who’s gotten plenty of starting reps at the position. With these factors in mind, it brought me to three players: Pierre Desir of the Indianapolis Colts, Marcus Cooper of the Detroit Lions, and Rashaan Melvin of the Oakland Raiders.
I know everyone has their guy in free agency, but these guys listed, started or played multiple games in 2018, are under 30 and over 6’0. I’ll be dropping separate pieces on each candidate, and today’s breakdown is on Pierre Desir.
Desir stands 6’1, he’s 28 years old, and logged 79 combined tackles (60 solo) and one interception last season. He was originally drafted in 2014 by the Cleveland Browns. He has some experience playing in a similar system as the 49ers thanks to his time with the Los Angeles Chargers and Seattle Seahawks, before coming to the Colts. All three teams now run similar defensive systems. His PFF rating for 2018 was 77.5 which ranked 18th among qualifying corners. He signed basically a one year “prove it” deal with the Colts, so it’s a possibility he resigns, but after a breakout campaign the 49ers have the leeway to swoop in and take a flyer on him.
The Colts system was a blend of Seattle style Cover 3 with elements from Monte Kiffin’s Tampa 2, according to our friends at Stampede Blue. What I saw on the tape from Desir was him playing in a lot of short to medium zone. He also played man coverage but I didn’t see much at the line bump-and-run. Usually I saw him lining up five yards off the line and either dropping into a hook/flat zone, or trailing the WR in man coverage. He does well being physical with wide receivers and supporting the run. Let’s get into some clips from last season.
Against Oakland, Desir comes down the line and attacks the runner at the point.
Against Houston, we have another good clip of solid tackling on the option pass by Deshaun Watson. Watch him breakdown, lead with the shoulder and wrap up the runner.
Against Oakland, we get a good example of him jamming Jordy Nelson at the line. As Nelson breaks outside he tries to push Desir to gain the outside, but Desir is big enough to take the contact and Nelson falls over. Nice bump-and-run technique shown.
Next up is film versus Houston. Similar tight coverage versus Deandre Hopkins. He stays tight on his outside hip, breaks on the ball and comes away with the interception.
This next film is against New England. Even though he gives up the completion here, I’m looking at Desir’s ability to change direction. He shows fluid hips being able to follow the slant inside then pivoting outside to cover the wide receiver.
Versus Houston, this is a similar route, but his hips look less fluid. He gets opened up when Hopkins breaks outside, and Hopkins runs right by him. This is where I think Desir can work gain more consistency with his technique. Then again, Hopkins did several DBs like this last season.
Versus Oakland, he does a good job here of staying on the receivers hip pocket and making the tackle. It’s a tight window throw for the completion. In a passing league sometimes having consistent technique still nets completions, but being in position is a positive.
Overall, Desir graded out better than both starters we had at right cornerback last season by a sizable margin. What I saw, however, was a corner who rarely played on an island, and didn’t play much in the deep thirds. I think overall he has good technique, and he fits the mold of a Cover 3 corner, him being long and tall.
Another thing to consider is the Colts schedule. In the division, the best passer in my opinion is Deshaun Watson, and their offense ranked 13th in passing DVOA. Watson ended the season completing only 59 percent of his passes. After him you have Marcus Mariota and Blake Bortles. Last season the Colts also faced the AFC East and the NFC East. Tom Brady was the only dynamic top tier QB they faced within those divisions. This makes it hard to say if Desir’s “breakout” campaign will hold up against the likes of Russell Wilson or Jarred Goff. Next season San Francisco also has Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Ben Roethlisberger on the schedule, so locking down the secondary will be a big deal. Stay tuned for my breakdown of the other free agents in the near future. Go Niners!