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How the 49ers should address the slot cornerback position

There are a few names available in free agency who could help the Niners

Denver Broncos v Cleveland Browns Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

As free agency rolls on, so does the revolving door of player movement. Among the recent moves relevant to the 49ers was the Denver Broncos signing cornerback K’Waun Williams to a two-year deal. This leaves the 49ers with a glaring need at a position that had the same player as the week one starter for the last five seasons.

There are a number of different avenues the 49ers can pursue to replace Williams at the slot corner position. They can opt to draft a player. They can rely on an option on the roster already. They can trade for a player. But they should take the free agency route and sign one of the available veteran options still out there for grabs.

It’s important to remember that given the evolution of the sport, the slot corner position is essentially a starting role in today’s NFL. In 2021, teams were in three-plus wide receiver sets 65 percent of the time. The 49ers' defense faced these formations at a rate of 73 percent of the time.

This data would lead you to believe that it would be common sense for teams to address this role with the same amount of effort and resources they would any other starting position and not treat it as a rotational piece that is less prioritized into a specialized assignment. Sub packages are the base defense now, and the 49ers should not spare any expense to make sure they trot out the best 11 players they can in their nickel defense.

After investing in Charvarius Ward, the 49ers need to double down and make another aggressive move to compliment their secondary with another veteran to play in the slot. Here are three names currently on the market which I believe would be a good fit in San Francisco

Bryce Callahan

This would be the best-case scenario. The talent is undeniable, as Callahan has been one of the best slot corners in the entire league when he has been on the field. The later part of that sentence is where the concern lies, as Callahan has dealt with a string of injuries in recent years that has caused him to miss time.

If the 49ers are able to bring in Callahan on an incentive-laden deal, he could end up proving to be a steal. This is the kind of player that can effectively matchup when left on an island with a player like Cooper Kupp. A move like this would give San Francisco arguably a top-ten secondary, depending on what happens with the currently vacant strong side safety spot.

Chris Harris Jr.

Harris Jr. is another strong veteran option who has an abundance of experience playing at a high level out of the slot. Although Harris is getting up there in terms of age, he still was one of the more productive players in the slot this past season.

Among players to record a minimum of 200 snaps at slot corner in 2021, Harris ranked third in yards allowed per snap while ranking fourth in snaps per target. Like Callahan, the only real concern is the potential of missing games, although despite missing three games last year, Harris still ranked among the league's best in number snaps at the position.

Donte Deayon

While you wouldn’t get the same track record that comes from the aforementioned names, this option also provides plenty of upside. After being signed midseason by the Rams, Deayon performed admirably in the ten games he appeared in. The former New York Giant looked the part of a player who belonged in a relatively substantial role at the NFL level.

At 28 years old, Deayon is also younger than Callahan or Harris and almost assuredly could be signed for a cheaper price tag. However, if the 49ers are willing to take a swing on a lesser-known commodity, it could prove invaluable if Deayon can build on the strong performance he had during stretches of the 2021 season.

I still think the 49ers' best bet is a player like Callahan or Harris. However, if they’re aiming to get younger across the board in the secondary, taking a flyer on a player like Deayon might give the defensive back room the same spark Seattle got when they poached D.J Reed from San Francisco in 2020.

Regardless, I think their best outcome lies in pursuing any proven veteran that is within reach. I think Emmanuel Moseley ultimately provides more value, primarily staying at one of the wide corner spots, where he has played very well in recent seasons.

If I’m the 49ers, I’m not toying with any kind of rotation by kicking players inside. Go out and get one of these proven options on the market and give this secondary the boost that it needs.