Would you say “America’s got talent?”
If you thought “no,” you probably overlooked the San Francisco 49ers secondary. Their cornerbacks in particular are among the deepest groups in today’s NFL, a necessity to slow down the Peyton Manning’s and Tom Brady’s of the turf.
Despite their depth, the 49ers don’t feature a prototypical shut-down corner, and the failed acquisition for Eric Wright hints that the coaching staff expects more from the unit. These veterans will soon have to claw for snaps and jobs but when at their collective best should swarm opposing route runners like fruit flies.
If all goes according to plan, the week one roles will be:
Left Cornerback (#1) – Carlos Rogers
One year removed from a Pro Bowl berth, Rogers remains atop the ranks, but he’s standing on shaky ground. Last season, his interceptions evaporated (falling from 6 in 2011 to 1), and the defender allowed a whopping 70.9% of throws in his direction (out of 110 attempts) to be completed according to Pro Football Focus.
Rogers rarely commits penalties and is a sound tackler, but his inconsistencies in coverage as a member of the Redskins have resurfaced, which is concerning since San Francisco is still on the hook for three years and $19 million after a 2012 extension.
Rogers could be looking over his shoulder the entire year unless he gets his act together.
Right Cornerback (#2) – Tarell Brown
Brown is the one of the best corners the mainstream has never heard of (or ignores), but supposedly he likes it that way. The 2007 fifth rounder can cover the slot, chase receivers deep, and rarely misses the ballcarrier on takedowns. Brown is often assigned to cover the split end, so his role is easier than Rogers’, but still hardly a cinch. In the last year of his contract, the best of Brown may be yet to come as he plays for a lucrative extension or free agent offer.
Third Cornerback – Chris Culliver
Maybe Culliver hates homosexuals, or maybe not. What his ignorant comments and a rotten postseason undermined was an outstanding 2012 regular season when the nickel back produced 48 tackles and 14 pass deflections, while preventing quarterbacks from completing nearly half the passes made his way (per P.P.F.). Culliver is fast (4.4 40 time) and athletic (38.5” vertical) and if his ascent of development continues, the third-year pro could soon be Rogers’ successor in the starting lineup.
Fourth Cornerback – Nnamdi Asomugha
Remember when Asomugha was the NFL’s best man-to-man corner? The 49ers do, and they envision the four-time All-Pro rechanneling the past now that he’s back in the Bay.
Asomugha has noticeably slowed down since his days with the Raiders, but the 32-year-old can still make plays in the air and attack the run effectively. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio should limit his usage in zone calls to prevent repeating the veteran’s most embarrassing moments (i.e. every moment) with the Eagles.
At worst, on a nonguaranteed deal, Asomugha is a knowledgeable presence and outstanding insurance.
Fifth Cornerback – Tramaine Brock
Brock remains a work-in-progress at the corner, but he has established himself within the organization after three years as a fearless punt and kickoff gunner. In 2012 he collected 14 solo tackles in the role, and the coaches hope the undrafted free agent from Belhaven College has put in the hard labor this offseason to make more appearances on defense.
Sixth Cornerback – Perrish Cox
Cox, the 49ers’ former dime defender, may have a hard time sticking on the 53-man roster with the squeeze applied by Asomugha and Brock.
While Cox is admired for his physicality, Asomugha holds an edge in coverage ability, whereas Brock is a more impactful contributor on special teams.
Thanks for the contributions Cox, but unfortunately, the NFL must sometimes be a numbers game.