NFL Network’s draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah had a conference call on Friday discussing upcoming prospects in this year’s NFL draft. On the call, Jeremiah said, “trading back from No. 31 makes a lot of sense for the Niners. [They] Could find good options among DB’s on Day 2.” Most of us believe that the San Francisco 49ers won’t be selecting in the first round. Some even believe the Niners will trade back twice to recoup as many draft picks as they can. Remember, they don’t have a second, third, or fourth-round pick after the Dee Ford and Emmanuel Sanders’ trades.
We’ll get into more in-depth analysis on the draft picks the 49ers may be interested in as we get closer to April 23, when the draft is held. If Jeremiah is correct, and the team is interested in defensive backs, let’s throw some names that are expected to be around on Day 2. I’ll use PFF’s big board as the order. PFF has nine cornerbacks in their top-40. That tells you about the depth in this class.
No. 10 Kristian Fulton, LSU, grade: 88.6
Fulton has been the highest-graded cornerback in SEC play in each of the past two seasons. I don’t care if he doesn’t have the freakiest tools, you can’t fake production like that in the best college football conference.
Fulton is the biggest cornerback candidate in the draft to take a tumble in the rankings after the combine. On the field, I don’t think he trusts his speed. He opens up earlier than he has to, or earlier than someone who can run would, and plays a little tall when he backpedals. There are signs showing the lack of speed/flexibility when you watch him play. Get ready for this bizarre story to surface again. In short, Fulton thought he would test positive for marijuana, tried to use someone else’s urine for his drug test, the tester caught Fulton in the act, and the NCAA notified LSU that Fulton needed to be suspended for two years. Oh, and the test was actually intended to monitor PEDs.
That will be the talk of Fulton’s combine. There is plenty to like about his game. Though he may not be a burner, he’s really good at “staying on top of the receiver,” or putting himself in a position to make a play. Fulton does a nice job of getting his head around so he can play the ball in the air. It sounds simple, but we see cornerbacks struggle to do this all the time.
No. 19 Trevon Diggs, Alabama, grade: 88.5
Diggs has the “pterodactyl build” that you love to see at the cornerback position. It showed up on the field too, where he forced 11 incompletions and earned a 90.1 coverage grade.
Diggs should wow with his size. There will be plenty of jokes about his long arms, and talk about how he was a converted wide receiver. If there is a player I didn’t want to 49ers to draft, it’s him. Diggs feels like a project. You don’t get the sense he knows what he’s doing, and there’s no telling he’ll get there. That’s not a gamble I’d be willing to take, and I’m not sure I’d have the patience to get there. I’m sure he’ll test well, but Diggs has some flaws he needs to improve on if he wants to play at the next level.
No. 24 C.J. Henderson, Florida, grade: 62.6
Henderson battled injuries this season and put more bad on tape than you’d like, but go back to his true sophomore season in 2018, and you’ll see why we’re still high on him. That year he allowed only 18 catches all season long.
Henderson graded as an 80.6 his sophomore season. Henderson is a press-man corner that can also play well in off coverage. Henderson is a physical player that you may not want him guarding the other teams top wideout, but he’s competent No. 2 cornerback. I’d be a little worried about his poor tackling.
No. 26 Jaylon Johnson, Utah, grade: 83.8
Johnson was lockdown in Pac-12 play in 2019. He allowed only 23 catches from 52 targets against Pac-12 opposition.
I’ve watched Johnson, but still don’t have a great feel for him as a player. I’ll circle back after the combine.
No. 29 Cameron Dantzler, Mississippi State, grade: 83.5
Dantzler still needs to get stronger to hold up in the NFL, but even with his slight build, he held up pretty darn well in the SEC. In conference play, he allowed 11 catches from 23 targets for 171 yards.
Dantzler is the only player I watched out of all of the cornerbacks that didn’t struggle in coverage against the LSU and Alabama wide receivers. The guys listed above are good, but something is missing. Dantzler is a guy that I’d take in the top-15, assuming he does well at the combine. He’s an aggressive player against the run and at the line of scrimmage. Dantzler doesn’t have to get his hands on you to win, though. He’s quick enough to mirror your moves at the line of scrimmage and say with the receiver. If the 49ers take a cornerback, I hope it’s Dantzler. He’s really, really good.
No. 33 Jeff Gladney, TCU, grade: 71.7
Gladney is on the skinny side for the cornerback position, but he makes up for it with elite speed. On his 78 targets 10-plus yards downfield over the past two years, Gladney allowed only 19 catches for 470 yards.
Gladney is one of the quicker cornerbacks in the draft. He may have the best transitions of anyone, and that allows Gladney to make plays on the ball consistently. He wasn’t tested down the field a whole lot, so keep an eye on what his 40 time is. I think he can run, but there was a play or two that left you second-guessing.
Bryce Hall, Virginia
A.J. Terrell, Clemson
Noah Igbinoghene, Auburn (love him)
Damon Arnette, Ohio State
Hall and Terrell are both in PFF’s top 40 as well. Hall had an ankle injury that forced him to miss the last half of 2019. Terrell picked a poor time to have the worst game of his career against LSU. Igbinoghene and Arnette would be my No. 3 and No. 4 cornerbacks as of today. Noah is going to blow the combine up, and despite only playing cornerback for two seasons, he looks like a seasoned veteran at times. Arnette played on the other side of a top-five cornerback, so he’s naturally going to get outshined. Arnette is “annoying,” which is a compliment for a cornerback.