The San Francisco 49ers received a high grade from many people for their 2013 draft. They had a plan to address some holes and did so by moving around the board yet still getting players that they coveted. However, there is still some question marks at a particular position. Last year was a hard year for the 49ers when it came to dealing with smaller, shifty slot receivers. They relied on Carlos Rogers to bump inside in the nickel package but he struggled against Percy Harvin, Victor Cruz and Danny Amendola.
The nickel corner position is an area that the 49ers needed to address for both now and for the future. Carlos Rogers is still under contract but he has a cap number of around eight million dollars in 2014. After Rogers, the 49ers nickel option is Parish Cox. Tarrell Brown and Chris Culliver are both options on the outside but neither are the kind of corners that can handle slot receivers running the two way go. Brown will be a free agent after this season. Culliver is also coming up on free agency. The future at the nickel spot is definitely a question mark.
The 49ers could have addressed the future issue by selecting a nickel corner in the draft. Granted, they did have a very nice draft and it is almost impossible to take care of every need with a single rookie class. Robert Alford would have been a good option or even Tyrann Mathieu. However, the 49ers did not draft a single corner in the draft. They showed an interest in Tyrann Mathieu but he ended up getting selected by the Arizona Cardinals.
Free agency was another way that they could have addressed the nickel position. Brent Grimes or Michael Jenkins were both inexpensive options that could have been signed to offer stability. Grimes did end up getting over paid by the Miami Dolphins but he only signed a one year deal. He didn’t get the attention that he should have gotten via free agency because he was coming off of an Achilles tear. Grimes was a pro bowl caliber corner prior to his injury. A team could have probably signed him if they offered a two year deal with injury incentives. Instead, he sat on the market and the Dolphins gave him a one year five million dollar deal.
Michael Jenkins fell out of favor with the Dallas Cowboys. He was relegated to nickel duties and made some comments that didn’t please the front office. Jenkins can still play and it’s always good to get a player with his type of ability that has something to prove. His falling out of favor affected his free agency status. He seemed to be the exact type of free agent that Trent Baalke and the 49ers’ front office likes. I am surprised he wasn’t signed to a one year “prove yourself” kind of deal similar to what Rogers got two years ago. The Oakland Raiders ended up signing Jenkins instead.
Danny Amendola had 11 receptions for 102 yards for the St. Louis Rams when they tied the 49ers. This does not include a long catch and run that put the Rams in position to win the game. Fortunately, that play was called back due to an illegal procedure penalty. Victor Cruz also victimized the 49ers when the New York Giants beat the 49ers last year. Cruz had six catches for 58 yards including an early touchdown. Neither Cruz nor Amendola are set to play against the 49ers in the regular season. Amendola moved on to the New England Patriots and the 49ers don’t have a regular season game against Cruz and the Giants this year.
Unfortunately, two more shifty slot receivers will be on the 49ers schedule. The Rams drafted the most explosive player in the draft in Tavon Austin. He continuously victimized opposing defenses with video game like elusiveness and lateral movement. He will go against the 49ers twice this year. The Seattle Seahawks also added a game changer when they acquired Percy Harvin. He had nine catches for 89 yards when the Minnesota Vikings beat the 49ers last year. He repeatedly gave Rogers trouble as he had some key catches for first downs.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier as the 49ers will have to face the Green Bay Packers and Randall Cobb, another slot guy that gave the 49ers trouble in 2012. He had nine catches for 77 yards but was primarily the assignment for Perrish Cox while the 49ers used their dime package. He did not have a good game against the 49ers in the playoffs but will surely still be a threat in the season opener in San Francisco. Throw in Reggie Wayne and Lance Moore as slot options that are on the 49ers’s schedule and you have a pretty imposing list of receivers that can hurt the 49ers if they don’t get superb play from their nickel corner.
Hopefully, Carlos Rogers can remain healthy and provide an answer to the long list of stellar opposing slot receivers this year. What happens after this year is a mystery. How the 49ers address the nickel spot after next season remains to be seen. They did sign Nnamdi Asomugha to a one year deal but he is not a corner that can cover slot receivers. Let’s hope that this hole is not one that will not come back to haunt the 49ers.