With the combine over, and NFL free agency set to begin a week from today, rumors have been swirling everywhere about who will go where. With such a deep field of cornerbacks (and defensive backs in general) available in both free agency and the draft, the San Francisco 49ers will have all kinds of options and can afford to be picky. Also, if that Alex Smith deal gets done, the 49ers will have some cap room to play around with and could make a splash for a big-time corner. We’ll go down the list of guys who I think would be a great fit for the 49ers at the cornerback position and I’ll break this down into two categories, one for free agency and one for the draft.
There are TONS of corners available in this year’s market. Here is a list of 10 guys in no particular order.
Sean Smith (59 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, 12 pass defends, 2 int’s last season with Miami)
Brent Grimes (Only played one game then tore ACL with Atlanta)
Aqib Talib (Only played in 6 games last year for the Patriots, was suspended 4 games for PED use)
Chris Houston (56 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 11 pass defends, 2 int’s last season with Detroit)
Kennan Lewis (71 tackles, 23 pass defends with Steelers)
Dunta Robinson (80 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 8 pass defends, 1 int with Atlanta)
Adam Jones (40 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 9 pass defends with Cincinatti)
Mike Jenkins (13 games, 14 tackles, 3 pass defends with Dallas)
Charles Woodson (38 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 5 pass defends, 1 int with GB)
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (51 tackles, 17 pass defends, 3 int’s with Philadelphia)
Darrell Revis, would have to be acquired through trade, owed about $6 million this season
Do Not Sign
So how do we sort through this mess of names? Well right off the bat I say no to Adam Jones and Aqib Talib due to their off-the-field issues. The free agent class is too deep this year so there are no need to take any chances with character-issue guys. Also, while I think Charles Woodson could be an okay fit for the team, he is just too old and has lost one too many steps and is probably most useful as an in-the-box safety.
I would also add Mike Jenkins to the ‘do not sign’ due to his struggles in the past few years. He had his chance in Dallas, but after a couple years, and with the Cowboys revamping their defensive backfield in both the draft and free agency last year he became expendable.
Another guy, while not possessing many of the issues that the others on this list have, is Dunta Robinson. To me he is more of an average corner that has already seen his best days. He can still make plenty of plays in the box, but San Francisco is looking for more of a coverage guy.
Middle of the Pack
These are the guys that I would definitely not mind, but still are not my absolute favorites. In order I rank them Dominique Rodgers Cromartie then then Chris Houston.
Make no questions about it, DRC is high talented, but due to his questionable effort at times it is hard to rank him any higher because talent will only take you so far once you get to the pros. Especially with a coach and staff like Harbaugh has, if you do not put in the effort, you will not get playing time. For a prime example of that, see Brandon Jacobs.
I guess I would throw Revis into this category since not only would the 49ers have to trade to get him, they would have to pay a pretty good chunk of change this season for him. It is definitely one of those high risk, high reward type of deals.
First we have Brent Grimes, who I would love the 49ers to take a stab at if the price is right. He might even be worth a bit of a higher salary if he’s willing to do a short-term deal. Just a season ago Grimes was considered one of the best corners in the league before he tore his ACL. While it remains to be seen whether he can return to his top form after the injury, he could definitely be worth the gamble.
While he is along the sames lines as Revis as far as riskiness goes, I believe he could be had for cheaper than Revis’ $6 million price tag. If not, then Grimes is a pass.
Another name that stands out to me, and I am a bit surprised as to why he is not at least a bit more coveted, is Keenan Lewis from the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s not a guy that will get you turnovers, but he is the guy who had the most pass defends in the league last year. And, he’s only 26 years old, meaning he could be around for a while. Not to mention he did this while covering guys like A.J. Green, Anquan Boldin, and Torrey Smith, all of whom he faced twice last season.
The other guy, who is high on everybody’s list, is Sean Smith from Miami. He’s only 25 years old and has progressed very well in the past two years. Last season he showed flashes of being a top corner back and could make the jump to a clear number one this upcoming season.
The NFL Draft
While free agency is filled with talent and depth at the cornerback position, do not sleep on the corners in the draft either. There are plenty of big names that could have an immediate impact on whichever team drafts them. I’ve highlighted a few guys in parentheses are their projected rounds, according to CBS Sports.
First I would like to point out I have left Xavier Rhodes off the list because he will most likely be gone by the time the 9ers pick comes around. It looks like he is going to go in the 10-15 range, and unless San Francisco trades up, will be out of reach.
Desmond Trufant (1), Washington: Has all the numbers and athleticism you could want in a corner, but sometimes lacks in technique. As a plus he can play both the slot and as the outside corner.
Jamar Taylor (2), Boise State: Has a great work ethic, ran a 4.39 at the combine, has great size, and can play both man and zone defense well. The only knock on him is his lack of quality competition and can be a bit too aggressive. 9ers fans know all about corners who are overly aggressive (ahem, Nate Clements).
Jordan Poyer (2), Oregon State: Does not mind playing the run and is quick in the defensive backfield, although he lacks the speed to cover the deep threats. He’s also a great returner both on punts and kickoffs, which would be nice to have with Ted Ginn Jr. now gone.
Darius Slay (2), Mississippi State: The combine really raised his stock and is now almost on par with teammate Jonathan Banks as far as draft position goes. Great coverage guy, who also had the best 40-yd dash time at the combine. Not the best tackler, however.
Robert Alford (2-3), Southeastern Louisiana: Great shutdown corner and could be somewhat of a sleeper compared to a lot of the big names. Can do it all, is athletic, but much like Taylor of Boise State has questions raised about him due to lack of quality competition since he placed in the FCS.
B.W. Webb (3), William & Mary: An unpolished guy who has limited size but has room to improve at both tackling and coverage. Could turn out to be a solid NFL starter.
Will Davis (4), Utah State: Worked his way up from community college (played locally at De Anza). Considered to be a little too much on the finesse side but is great in coverage. However, he can be overly aggressive sometimes.
I think the number one choice here is Desmond Trufant with his raw athletic ability. Technique can be refined at the NFL level while athleticism is just natural ability. In my opinion he is one of those ‘can’t miss’ guys that any team would love to have.
My second choice would be a tie between Jamar Taylor and Robert Alford. Taylor is drawing similarities to Ronde Barber with his work ethic and ability to play both man and zone, which could be a real asset for San Francisco.
Meanwhile Alford has the potential to be a true shutdown corner (in my opinion) in a couple of years if developed properly and learns to not get to anxious jumping routes. He also moves very well for his size with great speed to cover deep.
Wrapping it Up…
Obviously San Francisco has plenty of choices going forward as far as the cornerback position is concerned. If the 49ers make a splash and spend big in free agency I would not be surprised to see them to take a cornerback later in the draft that they can spend a year or two developing. This might even be the best case scenario as they can then draft a safety as well to fill the hole left by Dashon Goldson, who is now most likely leaving the team. On the flipside, if the guys in free agency are just too expensive, expect the 49ers to take a cornerback early in the draft and perhaps use free agency for a backup or dime corner.