NFL Draft 2020: Cornerback is an Overlooked Need for 49ers
As it stands, the 49ers have eight cornerbacks on the roster as they enter the 2020 NFL Draft: Richard Sherman, Emmanuel Mosley, K’Waun Williams, Ahkello Witherspoon, DJ Reed, Jalen “Teez” Tabor, Tim Harris, and Jermaine Kelly.
Sherman and Mosley are projected to start at outside corner, with Witherspoon being the immediate backup on the perimeter. Williams is projected to start in the slot, with Reed serving in the backup inside role.
Tabor spent the 2019 season on the practice squad, and both Harris and Kelly spent 2019 on IR. The 49ers invested a 2019 6th round pick in the 6’2” Harris. Of the three, Harris has the best chance to carve out a role in 2020.
Cornerback may not look like a glaring need now, but it is important to note that after the season the 49ers top 4 players at the position are set to hit free agency. Sherman, Mosley (ERFA), Williams, and Witherspoon are all set to hit the open market come the start of the 2021 league year.
While this may hint that cornerback is more of a need come 2021 opposed to the upcoming 2020 season, do not be deceived. The 49ers may consider drafting a corner early on in the 2020 draft for the following reasons:
The NFC West- mobile quarterbacks and receiving threats
Make no mistake, the NFC West is the best division in football. The 49ers and Seahawks both made the playoffs last season. The Rams would’ve made the playoffs last season with the NFL’s new playoff format. And let’s not forget about the Arizona Cardinals, who arguably had the best offseason of any team in the league.
Starting with the Cardinals, they made the biggest headline this offseason by acquiring All-Pro receiver De’Andre Hopkins. Hopkins will immediately become the top target for Kyler Murray, which will without a doubt create problems for the 49ers secondary. The Cardinals also have Chrstian Kirk, who has steadily improved in each of his two seasons.
The Cardinals played the 49ers extremely tough both meetings last year. As did the Seahawks, Ravens, and Chiefs. What do these teams have in common? A mobile quarterback. Last season, the 49ers defense was one of the best the game has ever seen. However, there is no disputing the 49ers struggled against mobile quarterbacks.
Looking at the Seahawks offense, Russell Wilson is one of the best mobile quarterbacks the NFL has ever seen. His ability to extend plays and make throws on the run is up there with the best in NFL history. Wilson has a 1,000 yard receiver in Tyler Lockett and a rising star in D.K. Metcalf.
With these mobile quarterbacks, you need cornerbacks who can keep up with receivers for extended amounts of time.
The Rams offense features three different receivers who have each recorded a 1,000 yard season within the last two years: Cooper Kupp (27), Robert Woods (28), and Brandin Cooks (26). The three of them are big time receivers who compliment each other wonderfully. While Goff is not mobile like Wilson and Murray, he has the most receiving threats.
The receiving threats in the NFC West are going to be around for years to come, and the mobile quarterbacks in the division are only going to make them that much more dangerous.
The 49ers had more than their fair share of injuries during the 2019 season. However, they were able to remain relatively healthy at the corner position. Mosley played in every single game throughout the year, while Sherman and Williams missed a game each. Witherspoon got hurt early in the year, and missed 6 games before returning week 10. Though, Witherspoon getting hurt is what presented Mosley his opportunity.
In 2020, the 49ers would be fortunate to have a repeat of that sort of health on the perimeter of their defense. However, they should not count on it. Injuries are part of the game and if any of the 49ers’ starting corners were to go down, that could drastically change the outlook of the NFL’s number one pass defense from a year ago.
Of course the argument of injuries being a part of the game can apply to any and every position, but adding young talent to the secondary would benefit the 49ers even if no injuries occur at the position this upcoming season.
The unknown at the position beyond 2020
As mentioned before, Sherman, Mosley, Williams and Witherspoon are all set to become free agents come 2021. Reed, Harris and Kelly are the only cornerbacks with contracts intact beyond 2020.
Mosley established himself as the 49ers No. 2 outside corner during the Super Bowl run, and as an ERFA he is the only corner I fully expect back in 2021. Williams is one of the top slot corners in the game, as Pro Football Focus ranked Williams as the 7th best corner in the NFL. The 49ers would be wise to extend Williams' contract.
Sherman is still playing at a high level, but will be 33 when searching for his next contract. Sherman will most likely want top corner money, and it is uncertain which direction the team will go. Witherspoon has had an up-and-down first three years in the league, and his role with the team beyond 2020 is also uncertain.
All things considered
John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan should do their due diligence on the top cornerback prospects in this draft class. The 49ers secondary will have their hands full with the receiving threats in the division and the mobility of Murray and Wilson. The 49ers aren’t particularly deep at the position and it is clear there is a long term need at the position.
With the 13th pick, the 49ers have a chance to land a blue-chip corner, a rarity at the position. Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah and Florida’s CJ Henderson both have shut down corner potential. Okudah figures to be off the board by 13, while Henderson is more than likely to be on the board. If drafted, Okudah or Henderson would immediately compete for a starting job.
If the 49ers address another position at 13, they may look to trade down from 31 and draft a cornerback on day 2. Clemson’s AJ Terrell, Utah’s Jaylon Johnson, Alabama’s Trevon Diggs, Mississippi State’s Cameron Dantzler, Virginia’s Bryce Hall, and Ohio State’s Damon Artnette are all day two prospects who project to be starters in the NFL.