About this time last year, Chris Culliver was a hot topic among the San Francisco 49ers fans and most of it was not very good. This offseason, Culliver is the forgotten man among the remaining members of the Niners’ secondary. Many fans and experts are perplexed by the Niners’ lack of movement in free agency, especially at the corner back position.
The only player they have brought in is Chris Cook from Minnesota and he is on nothing more than a try-out contract to try and provide depth to the position. They also resigned corner back Eric Wright, but again he does not expect to challenge for a starting spot.
Many of those experts expected the Niners to be major players for a front line corner back, such as Darrelle Revis and Alterraun Verner. They felt the Niners needed find another corner back to pair alongside Tramaine Brock and then use a high draft pick on another one. These people are forgetting about the Niners’ other talented young corner back, Culliver.
It is simply a case of out of sight, out of mind for Culliver, as a torn ACL ended his season during the team’s mini-camps. Culliver was slated to earn a starting spot during training camp and was more highly thought of than Brock. His injury led to Brock’s chance to see increased playing time, but Culliver was ahead of Brock on the depth chart for a reason.
Culliver is a talented, young player that is still developing his game and growing as an NFL corner back. His is still raw in his development with just one year at corner back in college, before two more years in the NFL. He has the physical tools that many teams are now looking for in a corner, which is great size, length, and speed. He is six feet tall, over 200 pounds, has 31.25 inch long arms, and he runs a 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds.
He ticks off all the boxes on Trent Baalke’s checklist for scouting prospects. The Niners have shown a recent interest in bigger corners that have long arms and Culliver was the first prospect they brought in that fit that mold. Baalke’s eye for quality defenders can include Culliver, as well.
Culliver has been extremely productive in his time with the Niners. As a rookie, he earned his spot as the number corner and would push Carlos Rogers inside to the slot in their nickel and dime packages. He rated out as one of the better coverage corners, according to various advanced metrics, despite being used as role player. He had one interception to go with eight interceptions and 38 total tackles.
In 2012, Culliver challenged Carlos Rogers for starting time and saw most of the time at the left corner back position in passing situations. He really came into his own with the increased responsibility, as he was one of the top-15 corner backs in the NFL. He was able to shut down many of the opposing big name receivers. He finished with two interceptions and 15 pass deflections.
2012 was not an entire great year for Culliver, as he had a rough end of the season and post-season. Culliver was picked on regulary and gave up several key plays in the Super Bowl against the Baltimore Ravens. He looked over-matched as the stage got bigger and a lot of that could be due to him still learning the nuances of the position and he was out-played by veteran receivers and quarterbacks.
This performance and several comments he has made off the field have colored the bias that many fans have against him. The NFL is the ultimate “what have you done lately” league and his poor playoff performance has caused many of the fans to forget how great he was during the first half of the season. Once they realize that he is more like the player in the first year and half of his career. He just had a slump and the flashes of being a brilliant player are more indicative of his career path.
The cupboard is not quite as bare as many are led to believe. Culliver is a starting caliber player and his stock is still very much on the rise. The team thinks very highly of the young corner, as there are rumors they are looking to start discussions of a contract extension. The team does not need a starting outside corner with Culliver and Brock, but they could use a player to man the slot and players to create competition among the depth players.
Culliver may be the forgotten man, but his play and promise should put him at the forefront of everyone’s thoughts when it comes to the future of the secondary.