The San Francisco 49ers went into the 2014 NFL Draft looking for depth at the cornerback position. A team that lost two of it’s starters in CB Carlos Rogers and CB Tarell Brown, the 49ers knew help was needed on the outside. And while the 49ers already had projected starters in CB Tramaine Brock and CB Chris Culliver it was clear more help was necessary. Mission accomplished as the Niners came away with three young cornerbacks to groom.
From fourth-round pick (No. 129) CB Dontae Johnson to fifth-round pick (No. 150) CB Keith Reaser, GM Trent Baalke and company targeted cornerbacks early and often. However, with Reaser likely being placed on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform List) that leaves two rookie corners to make a splash and they are Johnson and sixth-round pick (No. 180) CB Kenneth Acker. However, the question remains, which one will rise in 2014? Although both players will likely see a limited role on special-teams, I believe that Johnson will make the biggest splash.
For the sake of the article, first-round pick DB Jimmie Ward was left off the list due to him being a safety with a slot skill-set leaving Johnson as my choice. For one, Johnson is a big bodied cornerback. At 6-2 and 200 pounds, Johnson has the ability to lockdown wide receivers off the line of scrimmage. His wiry frame easily allows him to extend his arms while re-routing wide receivers off the line. A technique that takes time to master, Johnson seems to look the part as he tries to win a roster spot. Johnson spoke about his height being an advantage as he said, “With my body type being a taller guy, I tend to watch longer guys, pretty much trying to model my game technique-wise.”
Aside from Johnson’s ability to play bump-and-run it’s his high football IQ that may win the coaches hearts. While at North Carolina State, Johnson graduated in December 2013 with a dual major in sports management and business administration. However, it’s his fundamentals and football smarts that prove to be invaluable. Johnson rarely bites on double moves and play-action pass easily maintaining within arms-length in coverage. A player that wins his battles with proper technique rather than burner speed, Johnson’s skill set should transition nicely as Training Camp begins later this month.
With the 49ers searching for a breakout rookie cornerback with starter potential, Johnson may be the answer as his combination of ideal H-W-S and fundamentals may be just what the doctor ordered.