Niners Live steps up to the plate and presents a fresh and unique look through our lens and provides our perspective on the top three NFL draft prospects the 49ers should consider at cornerback.
As the 2018 NFL Draft steadily approaches, the 49ers need to address their cornerback position as they haven’t had a shutdown cornerback since “Primetime” Deion Sanders wore a 49ers uniform. It’s said that numbers never lie. Well, in 2017, the 49ers ranked 22nd in pass defense, gave up 3,764 passing yards, 27 passing touchdowns, surrendered a 63.2% completion rate to opposing quarterbacks, and the defense only recorded 10 interceptions (Ahkello Witherspoon and Eric Reid tied with two each) on the season (via NFL.com).
The last 49er to eclipse the six-interception season of Deion in 1994 was Walt Harris who had eight in 2006. Niners Live presents its top three cornerbacks the 49ers should consider selecting to again solidify their secondary.
Niners Live presents its top three cornerbacks the 49ers should consider selecting to again solidify their secondary.
No. 1 Joshua Jackson, CB Iowa, 6’1”, 192 lbs., 21, Junior
Position rank: 1st (per CBSports)
Projected round: 1st (per Walterfootball)
How he fits
Joshua Jackson is a certified sky thief! If the ball is in the air in his vicinity he’ll steal it. In 2017, Jackson recorded eight interceptions, 18 passes breaks ups (PBU) and 48 tackles. Jackson has the size, speed, technique, ball skills, and athleticism to play and excel at the next level and may even be the first cornerback off the board.
With the lack of a complete cornerback on the 49ers roster, Jackson would add the presence of a (potential) shutdown talent at cornerback to the roster. Jackson can use some polishing in off man and press man, but that can be coached. Hands down, Jackson is the type of player that can be added to build around or even groomed to be a future shutdown cornerback on the 49ers roster.
No. 2 Denzel Ward, CB Ohio State, 5’10”, 191lbs., 21, Junior
Position rank: 2nd
Projected round: 1-2
How he fits
Denzel Ward is the best pure cover cornerback in the draft, and even the best receivers he’s faced have had a hard time getting open as well as getting separation. While Ward lacks in size as he stands 5’10” (only reason he isn’t number one and if Jackson is gone, and he’s there, the 49ers should draft him). He recorded 37 tackles, 15 PBU’s, and two interceptions in 2017.
He has great feet to mirror change of direction, fluid hips to open up as receivers come out of breaks, has long arms, great ball/cover skills, and has the vertical leaping ability to meet or exceed the height of taller receivers.
Remember the name Ronde Barber? Well, he was only 5’10”, and according to General Manager John Lynch, played much bigger and was one of the best he’s played with during his time in the NFL (via team’s website).
Ward possess great fundamentals, speed, and the ball tracking ability to be competitive if playing on Sundays. Ward uses his hands very well and is a decent tackler, he’ll need to improve his physicality to maximize his talent in the NFL.
Until he proves himself on a consistent basis at the next level, which I anticipate him doing, he’ll have to continue to provide that blanket coverage he’s known for to earn his respect. Shorter than normal or not, if Ward is there (via a trading down scenario) when the 49ers pick, he’s definitely worthy of considerations. And his selection would help improve a struggling secondary.
No. 3 Isaiah Oliver, CB Colorado, 6’1”, 195 lbs., 21, Junior
Position rank: 3rd
Projected round: 2-3
How he fits
Isaiah Oliver has the physicality, fundamentals, movement, size, speed, and ball skills to compete at the next level. Though he’s yet to reach his potential, Oliver can very well be a dominant NFL shutdown cornerback one day. Oliver recorded 25 tackles, 13 PBU’s, and two interceptions in 2017. Though his stats don’t jump off the chart, Oliver has the measurables and skill set that adds instant value to the 49ers’ secondary which would be considered an upgrade.
In addition to playing cornerback, Oliver also has the athleticism and versatility to be a return man as well. Though he doesn’t have the eye-popping numbers, what he does have is the size and dawg mentality Robert Saleh appreciates, not to mention, his former teammate Ahkello Witherspoon is already on the roster and has already proved that Colorado products are talented and coachable.
The bottom line
The 49ers’ cornerback position is still missing a shutdown cornerback and either of the three on this list has the potential to fill that void. Whoever is available at the time the 49ers pick within their projected rounds, Jackson, Ward, or Oliver, either will be an instant upgrade to the secondary or would have the potential to again make the cornerback position relevant.
All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus, 49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Co-Author, Kevin Mitchell Staff Writer at Niners Live and Co-Author, Content Creator, Editor, Sequoia Sims.