Can you name the last time the San Francisco 49ers drafted a cornerback in the first-round without googling it? It was none other than first-round bust (No. 27) CB Mike Rumph in 2002. Remember him? A player that had the ideal H-W-S (Height, Weight, Speed) to potentially be a Pro Bowl talent. At 6-foot-2, 205 pounds Rumph was supposed to be the sure-fire first-round talent the 49ers desperately needed to go alongside CB Ahmed Plummer and CB Jason Webster, as ESPN’s Mel Kiper said:
Rumph brings outstanding size, excels in press coverage and is a solid tackler. He has been productive since early in his college career when he led the Hurricanes with four interceptions in 1999. If Rumph struggles at cornerback, the 49ers will have the option to move Rumph inside to safety, where he shouldn’t miss a beat. He has the necessary versatility to make the switch.
However, that never came to fruition, and as a result Rumph was out of the NFL after seven injury prone seasons. If the 49ers are to learn anything about the selection of Rumph it’s do not reach for cornerbacks in the first-round. Leading up to the draft all eyes were on Rumph’s teammate CB Phillip Buchanon and Florida’s CB Lito Sheppard. Two players that were clearly better, the 49ers settled on Rumph as their secondary desperately needed a solid No. 3 cornerback.
Now, the 49ers find themselves in a very similar situation as they hold the (No. 30) pick in this year’s draft. Will they go cornerback or wide receiver? The verdict is still out, but I can assure you with the abundance of draft picks at their disposal, the Forever Faithful should not expect GM Trent Baalke to sit on his stump, as he will likely trade up for a top tier cornerback or wide receiver, like he did last year in drafting FS Eric Reid.
So should the 49ers trade up in the middle of the first-round and get the player they desperately covet, there are only two cornerbacks worth taking and that’s Oklahoma State product CB Justin Gilbert and TCU’s CB Jason Verrett. The best pure cover corner in the draft, Gilbert would bring a tough, physical, and aggressive style to DC Vic Fangio’s defense. A player that allows his versatility to also increase his draft stock as Gilbert is a dangerous return-man, the 49ers would be wise to snatch him up if he’s on the board.
Sure sounds like another Oklahoma State cornerback the 49ers drafted back in 1998 doesn’t it. That’s right, who can forget R.W. McQuarters. An electrifying return man with the biceps to make gym rats jealous, McQuarters was supposed to be the next CB Ray Mickens or CB Aaron Glenn. However, that thought quickly came to a halt when the 49ers found out he was nothing more than a return specialist, leaving them to draft Plummer, Webster, CB Anthony Parker and Rumph. Don’t get me wrong McQuarters was my favorite NFL player at the time as his potential was off the charts, but unfortunately it never panned out for him in San Francisco leaving them to look for alternatives.
But rest assured Gilbert is different. For one, he has the H-W-S (Height, Weight, Speed) to be physical at the line of scrimmage while playing tight man-to-man coverage. A skill set that will be needed as the No. 3 cornerback will be likely playing the slot, Gilbert has the speed and build to make it happen. And if Gilbert is off the board, then look for the 49ers to target MWC CB Jason Verrett (TCU).
A player that reminds me of a poor man’s CB Tim Jennings, Verrett would be a nice addition to the 49ers secondary. A player that has the fluid hips to stay stride-for-stride with receivers down field while being able to break on the ball at the drop of a dime, Verrett’s coverage skills would allow Fangio the freedom to blitz more frequently. Not to mention, Verrett is at his best while playing off-coverage, that bodes well for Fangio as his cornerbacks are usually playing off-coverage while keeping everything in front of them.
With the 49ers having a plethora of draft picks, they would be wise to trade up and draft a top tier cornerback. And despite me only having Gilbert and Verrett rated on my big board as first-round cornerbacks, Baalke will likely do everything in his power to ensure one of these two will be suiting up for the red and gold come September.
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