There is no question that the San Francisco 49ers most glaring weakness on the defensive side of the ball is the cornerback position.
A position at which two starters are scheduled to become unrestricted free-agents with CB Perrish Cox and CB Chris Culliver, the 49ers will likely need to retain at least one of them if they hope to remain a playoff contender.
However, with Culliver seeking top-dollar while never owning a home in the Bay Area and Cox talking to management just moments after the season-ended, no contracts have been offered and as a result, the 49ers front office may just let them walk.
If this scenario plays out, where do the 49ers go from here?
While many Forever Faithful believe last year’s first-round pick (No. 30) DB Jimmie Ward is a bust, you can be sure he will continue to lock down the slot role as the team strongly believes he will bounce back in 2015. And with six-year veteran CB Tramaine Brock slated to regain his starting role on one-side, that leaves a camp battle on the other.
That camp battle would likely include second-year players CB Dontae Johnson, CB Kenneth Acker, and CB Keith Reaser.
Johnson seems like the front-runner as he finished his rookie season with 34 tackles and one interception returned for a touchdown, but other young players will likely figure into the mix as Acker and Reaser are both coming off redshirt years.
But can the 49ers really count on these players relishing a starting role under new defensive coordinator Eric Mangini? I don’t think so, leaving me to believe the 49ers will draft one or two in this year’s NFL draft and two options to consider are Ole Miss CB Senquez Golson and Ohio State’s Doran Grant.
Both players go against GM Trent Baalke’s prototypical cornerback in terms of genetic makeup. Both cornerbacks are vertically challenged as they are not six-feet tall while not possessing the elongated wingspan that Baalke covets.
So why would the 49ers draft one of these two players? Because the game-film doesn’t lie as they can make plays in Mangini’s complex cover-2 scheme.
When Baalke’s mentor–Bill Parcells had diminutive but shifty CB Aaron Glenn on his roster, he knew that Glenn was his best cover corner despite not being the ideal big-bodied press-guy. In fact, Parcells liked him so much while with the Jets that he brought the 5-9 cornerback with him to the Dallas Cowboys during his short stint there.
Glenn went on to become a three-time All-Pro player while later being labeled by Parcells as “one of his guys,” in his books.
So will Baalke tackle the same approach as he goes against conventional wisdom? I believe he will.
CB Senquez Golson with INT. This kid can play. pic.twitter.com/c4Wuao5XkS
— Ryan Sakamoto (@SakamotoRyan) February 24, 2015
Both Golson and Grant have the speed to match up on the outside while displaying the quick feet and fluid hips to stay stride-for-stride with receivers. Golson ran a 4.46 40-yard dash while Grant blazed with a 4.44 at the NFL combine. Not to mention, Golson and Grant both had respectable numbers on the bench-press with 15 and 21 respectively–makes me believe they are strong enough to hold up in press-coverage when called upon.
In addition, both players look to be fundamentally sound as both are savvy enough to undercut routes while diagnosing a receiver’s route tree early on. They are not fooled by route concepts while being able to maintain proper leverage in zone-coverage.
The 49ers who will continue using the cover-2 scheme, will also play a lot of off-man zone coverage, a scheme in which both players have experience in. And with Golson being named a 2014 All-American as he led the SEC in interceptions with nine, it’s no wonder why Golson should be a likely target.
While other cornerbacks like Michigan State’s CB Trae Waynes and LSUs CB Jaelen Collins continue to garner the media hype, I believe there are talented cornerbacks to be found in the second and third-rounds and Golson and Grant are two viable options.