The 49ers value three positions extremely highly -- edge rusher, offensive line, and quarterback. Look at what they’ve invested in those positions.
They traded three 1st round picks and one 3rd round pick to move up to draft Trey Lance and made Jimmy Garoppolo the highest paid QB in the NFL upon signing.
They drafted Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead in the first round, then traded a 2nd-round pick for and gave Dee Ford a 5-year $85 million deal prior to the 2019 season.
This offseason, they made Trent Williams the highest paid left tackle in the history of the NFL, signed Alex Mack to a 3-year deal, and selected RG Aaron Banks with the No. 48 pick. In 2018 they drafted RT Mike McGlinchey with the No. 9 pick and exercised his 5th-year option during the offseason.
Those are the three most important position groups in the NFL and the next most important position has become cornerback.
PFF created a stat called WAR (Wins Above Replacement) which is used to measure a given player against the average at the position. PFF generated the total WAR of the top 32 players at each position during the 2020 NFL season - they found that quarterbacks accounted for the highest total WAR, with the next highest position being cornerback.
What those numbers mean is the difference between a starting corner and backup is worse than any other position outside of QB. The NFL has also valued the position more as a whole, corners now rank fourth in franchise tag value APY.
Most of the NFL’s best corners are Top-40 picks. Of the NFL’s Top-10 paid (APY) CBs, only one was drafted outside of the Top-40 and he was selected No. 62 (James Bradberry).
Unfortunately, while the rest of the NFL has caught up with that, the 49ers don’t value or invest in corners as much as their peers. This year, 11 of the Top-50 picks were cornerbacks. The 49ers haven't selected a corner in that range since the 2000 NFL draft when they took Ahmed Plummer with the No. 24 pick.
Since 2017 when the current 49ers regime took over, they’ve selected two corners on Day 2 of the draft at No. 66 (Witherspoon, 2017) and No. 102 (Ambry Thomas, 2021). They also brought in Richard Sherman and K'Waun Williams via free agency.
Just take a look at the last four playoff teams from this past season - the Packers two starting corners were Top-33 picks (Kevin King and Jaire Alexander), both of Tampa’s were 2nd round picks, the Bills have Tre White who was a 1st round corner, while the Chiefs had a 4th round corner as CB1.
The 49ers did invest in the position. They took two corners in Rounds 3 and 5 and, while Lenoir is working out, they needed to do more in the offseason.
The only cornerbacks signed with the 49ers after the 2021 season are Emmanuel Moseley, Lenoir and Thomas. While Moseley and Thomas are starters who will fill that next spot at corner, if the 49ers had taken Asante Samuel Jr when they had the chance, they wouldn't have to worry about the future.
Rather than getting ahead of the issue at corner, the 49ers have been more reactive and because of that they have to go to the scrap heap to find available corners as guys just keep going down.
They also could’ve inquired and tried to look more into CJ Henderson who was traded to Carolina for a third, while the Panthers received a fifth. With the 49ers so desperate and their lack of long term security at the position, surely a third round pick would be worthy of that talented of a corner.
So while the 49ers do value three of the four most important positions, they need to catch up with the rest of the league when it comes to cornerback.
If they don't, they could fall behind and could fall out of contention, they just need to get better (and more) corners as coverage is as important as its ever been.