The likelihood of the San Francisco 49ers selecting a cornerback in this week’s NFL draft is high. What we don’t know is what round the Niners will draft a corner. Will the team surprise and take one at 13? Or will we see San Francisco wait until Day 3? Let’s take a look at two options in each of the first three rounds, then one cornerback in each of the fourth and fifth rounds.
Refrain from the first-round
There is one cornerback worth drafting in the first round this year, and he’ll be long gone by the time the 49ers are on the clock. San Francisco met with Florida’s cornerback C.J. Henderson, who has been mocked to the 49ers quite a bit this past month. I’ve seen all of Henderson’s 2019 targets, in addition to a few games. He is one of the most physically gifted cornerbacks you’ll ever see. It’s rare to see a cornerback say on top vertical routes and double moves from press coverage. That’s Henderson. Because of his movement skills, Henderson will always have a chance.
Henderson’s lack of feel and anticipation worry me. There is too much reliance on his athleticism, and that’s why he allowed 4/9 targets to be completed over 20 yards and 8/16 targets between 10-19 yards. Too often receivers created separation from Henderson, despite being athletically gifted. Play strength was also an issue. Henderson lost too many contested catch situations, not to mention struggling to find the ball. There is going to be a defensive backs coach that thinks he can teach Henderson route recognition and physicality. That’s without getting into his tackling. If Henderson is the pick at No. 13, he better play a lot better than he did in 2019.
The other player that is likely to go later on in the first round and the third cornerback selected is A.J. Terrell out of Clemson. I went through all of his targets as well, and for the life of me cannot understand what he showed in 2019 to be a first-round pick. He ran fast, but Terrell struggled with physicality even worse than Henderson. Unlike C.J., Terrell struggles to change directions. Players who get beat in the manner Terrell did are not viewed as first-round players. It’s as simple as that:
lotta a.j. terrell talk today. He struggles to change directions, doesn’t drive through the WR outta breaks, and consistently lost at the catch point this season. It wasn’t just against LSU. That’s a myth. Playing small/strength is an issue.— KP (@KP_Show) April 17, 2020
Does this look a first-rounder? pic.twitter.com/P5ZlyLeGUt
The second day is the sweet spot
While there may not be a clear “top guy” after Ohio State’s Jeffery Okudah, this draft is littered with quality No. 2 cornerbacks as well as slot corners. The 49ers have met with eight cornerbacks, and six of them will likely be drafted after the fourth round. If San Francisco chooses to select a cornerback in the second round, here are two names that fit the 49ers scheme well.
Kristian Fulton, LSU
Fulton gets a bad wrap because he’s playing across from a superstar. No cornerback forced more incompletions in 2019 than Fulton. The big question coming into the combine was if Fulton had long speed. He ran a 4.46 40-yard dash and had a 10-yard split (97th percentile.) The 6’0”, 197-pound cornerback competes, and that is as good of a compliment as you can give a cornerback. Fulton doesn’t have great leaping ability but can find the ball in the air with the best of them and either accurately time his jump or fight to rake the ball out of the hands of the receiver.
Fulton is a smart football player, and you can tell by how many plays he makes in zone coverage. He’s easily one of the top five cornerbacks in the class and should be viewed as a “safe starter.”
Noah Igbinoghene, Auburn
Igbinoghene would be the betting favorite if you asked, “which cornerback after Okudah has the best chance to be a star in three years.” Igbinoghene is physical, and probably grabby, but he has the correct mindset. Noah has been playing cornerback for two years and won’t be 21 until after his rookie season. Naturally, his instincts/recognition are average at best. Igbinoghene has far too many positive traits, though. Superb athleticism and man-to-man skills are already there, but Igbinohenne’s technique at the line of scrimmage is better than he’s given credit for. With more reps, he’ll understand what he can get away with as far as being too grabby. Igbinohene is really, really good.
Take on in the third
If the 49ers do select a cornerback, the best value may come in the third round.
Cameron Dantzler, Mississippi State
The Niners have met with Dantzler. There isn’t much I can say about him that I already haven’t.
Amik Robertson, Louisiana Tech
At 5’9”, 180 pounds, Robertson may not even be in consideration for San Francisco. While His size is a concern and it shows up at times, Robertson forced the fourth-most incompletions in 2019 and is an absolute dog. There isn’t a better competitor at the position in the draft his year. Ball production transfers and Robertson showed he could make plays time and time again last season.
Finding football players in the fourth and fifth
The 49ers met with both Josiah Scott from Michigan State and Michael Ojemudia from Iowa. That’s who I’m going with for my next two selections, as they can help the Niners in their own way.
Scott has a chance to provide the best value in the draft. Scott is 5’9”, 185 pounds, and had one of the smallest wingspans at the NFL Combine. Because of that, he’s likely going to be stuck inside in the NFL. Scott did run a 4.42 40-yard dash. The best part about him is Scott doesn’t get beaten deep. He allowed some underneath throws for minimal yards, but only allowed only eight receptions on 31 targets over ten yards last season. Scott is smart, sound, and quicker than fast, which is saying something. Scott did hurt his knee and missed all but five games in 2018 due to the injury. The downside to Scott is he does play small, and that showed up against bigger receivers. If he was an inch taller and 15 pounds heavier, Scott would be a Day 2 lock.
Ojemudia is the same defensive back out of Iowa that has been coming out of the NFL draft the past handful of seasons. Smart zone player that has terrific ball skills but is limited by his athleticism. Ojemudia has the length that John Lynch seems to covet, and is a sound tackler. He’s not flashy, but Ojemudia will be on an NFL roster. His testing numbers at the NFL Combine were surprising. Ojemudia ran a 4.45 40-yard dash and ran a 6.87 3-cone. USC’s Michael Pittman got the best of him in Iowa’s Bowl game, but Ojemudia is more of a No. 3 cornerback.