The San Francisco 49ers haven’t exactly invested in cornerbacks during the John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan era. However, defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans excelled in his first year of play-calling last season despite having several obstacles in the secondary.
The 2022 NFL Draft is a cheap way to make 30+ free agents expendable. However, it can become extremely challenging when your first selection is 61st overall. Luckily, San Francisco has been able to find gems in rounds three or later throughout Lynch’s tenure.
Last week, we looked at pass-catchers that can help Trey Lance. This week, We look at four different defensive backs that can strengthen Ryans’ defense.
Jalen Pitre, S, Baylor
The 49ers are expected to lose Jaquiski Tartt to a big payday in free agency, and Jimmie Ward is entering his ninth season in the NFL. Jalen Pitre, out of Baylor, is a player that fits what Ryans wants to do. Pitre can play safety, nickel corner, and is a solid Blitzer. Pitre was top-five in yards per coverage snap among the top cornerback draft prospects. His measurables below are similar to Ward’s.
Jalen Pitre— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) March 6, 2022
30 5/8 arm
73 1/2 wing
Pitre first intrigued me when I saw him taken with the first selection in a 49er mock draft. San Francisco asks the same out of both safeties. They have to be able to play as a single-high safety, have range, and be able to fit the run. Pitre can do all three, and his versatility immediately makes him a fit for the 49ers.
Zyon McCollum, CB, Sam Houston State
Honestly, I was not familiar with Zyon McCollum before the NFL Combine. FCS coverage has increased over the years, and several players have recently impacted the NFL from FCS schools. McCollum posted a 9.99 Relative Atheltic Score and became the 5th CB to earn a max-99 athleticism score since 2003.
McCollum was rewarded as a winner after his amazing day at the combine.
He ran an outstanding 4.33 40 at 6-foot-2, 199 pounds, and jumped 39.5 inches vertically. McCollum also displayed speed and agility on the field, flipping his hips adeptly for a corner his size. McCollum was the only player from his combine group to run the short shuttle (3.94 seconds) and three-cone drill (6.48), and he excelled at both.
Hopefully, McCullum is still available when the 49ers are up to draft. The athletic profile matches up to his play. The fluidity in his hips allows him to mirror receivers with ease.
Kalon Barnes, CB, Baylor
The 49ers survived last season by playing with an unpolished cornerback group. Kalon Barnes is projected to be a late-round selection and could immediately make an impact on special teams. Barnes is a fluid athlete with blazing speed, good ball skills and is sticky in man coverage.
Barnes isn’t great in run support and struggles to press, and his size is likely the biggest con he has. However, his closing speed could be great for San Francisco’s heavy zone scheme. That speed will also benefit him when Ryans’ blitzes and Barnes would have no help over the top.
I ruffled some feathers by vouching for a Jason Verrett return, and it’s somewhat warranted. Verrett has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career, but my basis was if we can get him back on a cheap deal. San Francisco has shown no interest in going after a high-caliber cornerback, and Barnes could be a serviceable player. He was a tenth of a second of breaking the 40 yard dash time record.
J.T. Woods, S, Baylor
Woods had one of the strongest testing days of all the defensive backs on day 4. Another defensive back out of Dave Aranda’s Baylor defense that is a bit raw but has a ton of upside. Woods had the highest vertical jump of any safety this year.
The former high school and Baylor track star had the fourth-highest broad jump of the safeties. His 4.36 40 yard dash can be seen on tape when he needs to recover and make a play on the ball. His physicality may be a question even though he is a willing tackler.
I think San Francisco will sign a veteran free agent cornerback because they’ve been comfortable doing so. Nickel cornerback will be one of the Niners’ biggest needs as K’Waun Williams will likely not return. Drafting a safety is also pretty important when Tartt and Tavon Wilson are expected to depart. Tarvarius More is set to return after his torn Achilles last June.
It’s no doubt that San Francisco needs to reform the secondary. All of these prospects could be viewed as raw sleepers that could end up being gems in the NFL. I will be doing a deeper dive on these players to see who fits Ryans’ scheme the best.