Niners Live will break down the resumes of cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Trumaine Johnson; what they bring to the table, and who’s the better fit based on age, market value, defensive scheme, style of play and overall skill set from an objective perspective, of course.
San Francisco 49ers ranked 22nd best in pass defense and allowed the 11th most passing yards in 2017, according to (ESPN.com). It took the defensive back Ahkello Witherspoon aka… “Spoon” (who showed promise but still had his highs and lows during his rookie season) a few weeks to suit up in live action on game day. In the end, the 49ers’ overall pass defense as a whole still struggled, along with fellow cornerback and teammate Donte Johnson who we’ll touch on shortly.
Time to add a high-caliber talent to the secondary
Trumaine Johnson (never made a Pro-Bowl or an All-Pro team), over the last two years, has been franchise tagged a whopping $30 million in value. According to Overthecap.com, the 49ers have $68,989,382 in cap space.
Player Breakdown at a glance
No. 1 Trumaine Johnson, CB L.A. Rams, former third-round pick
Height: 6-2 Weight: 205 Age: 28
PFF Grade: 74.2 overall (68th-ranked), 75.4 coverage and run def 77.5
Spotrac: 5 years, $68.3 million, $13.6 million annually (Market Value)
Recapping his resume and why he fits
In his six seasons; Johnson has appeared in 85 games, starting 62 of those contests while accounting for 327 combined tackles, 67 passes defended, two forced fumbles, 18 interceptions (seven in 2015, two in 2017), and three returned for touchdowns.
The Rams finished in the top half of the NFL in terms of pass defense in 2017, ranking 13th in yards allowed (3,475). The Rams were one of the best ball-hawking teams in the NFL, finishing with the fifth-lowest passer rating (78.4) against and the sixth-most interceptions (18).
Johnson deserves some credit for contributing to his team’s defensive statistics and success.
By comparison, the 49ers had 10 interceptions and allowed a passer rating of 93.9). For the biggest culprit, see 49ers’ cornerback (PFF overall grade of 36.9) Dontae Johnson.
- According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson was one of six cornerbacks who didn’t allow a single score in at least 300 coverage snaps in 2017. However, in Johnson’s overall coverage snaps of 645, he did give up one touchdown, which is still impressive.
- Bleacher Report ranked him 15th among all cornerbacks this past season, which is high praise.
- Johnson allowed a passer rating of 79.8 last season.
- One pick-six ( interception returned for a touchdown) in 2017
- In the last three years, Johnson was targeted 266 times, surrendering 159 catches at a catching rate of 59.8 percent, allowed 1,941 receiving yards, six touchdowns, and a passer rating of 74.2.
Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips‘ aggressive defense, which utilized more press-man and less zone, suits the skill set of Johnson who is a big and physical press coverage cornerback.
His strengths are his physicality, strong hands, efficient tackling (77.5 PFF run defense, tied for 40th among cornerbacks), mental and physical toughness and a high football I.Q. Forty-Niners’ defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is probably making his case to General manager John Lynch as to why he wants Johnson, but at what cost?
Player Breakdown at a glance
No. 2 Kyle Fuller, CB Chicago Bears, former first-round pick
Height: 6-0 Weight: 194 Age: 26
PFF Grade: 84.3 overall (22nd-ranked), 84.5 coverage and run def 46.2
Spotrac: 4 years, $9.68 million, $2.42 million annually (recent salary)
Recapping his resume and why he fits
In his four-year career; Fuller has amassed eight interceptions, 41 passes defended and three forced fumbles to go along with 156 tackles. After missing the entire 2016 campaign with a knee injury, Fuller bounced back strong this past season accounting for 22 passes defended, 60 tackles and two interceptions as a vital piece to the Chicago Bears defensive backfield. The Bears were one of the stingiest pass defenses in the league ranking seventh overall in total passing yards surrendered.
While Fuller has been somewhat inconsistent at times he played well enough last season to create some interest in his services. His best quality is his youth/untapped potential, being only 26, which still gives him time to develop his game and become one of the best at his position.
- He allowed the second lowest passer rating of 25.0 on deep throws, according to Pro Football Focus
- Fuller allowed a completion percentage of only 51.3 percent into his coverage, 17th-best last season according to PFF
- Out of 119 targets (61 being completed), Fuller only allowed a passer rating of 69.0 against opposing quarterbacks last season
- Tied for second in the NFL with 22 pass breakups in 2017, three more than he accounted for in his first two years
- Had a signature game in week 13 against the 49ers; Fuller accounted for seven tackles, one being solo, one tackle for a loss, two passes defended and one interception and was all over the field making his presence felt
Special notes: He’s played under the tutelage of Former Forty-Niners’ Defensive Coordinator and current Chicago Bears Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio who has a great track record for developing young defensive talent. Fuller gives Saleh the versatility to play man or zone base (within his cover three scheme) on his overall skill set of; freakish athleticism, high football I.Q, size, toughness, ball skills and solid footwork.
His tackling has been an area (116th in tackling efficiency) of concern; missed 22 in 2017 and has missed 43 on 219 attempts in his career. However, he did post 68 combined tackles in 2017.
2018 Free Agency: Trumaine Johnson vs. Kyle Fuller; who’s the better fit?
Based on the information provided in this article, an argument can clearly be made for either cornerback to be signed by the 49ers. Johnson is the older and more costly of the two, however, he is bigger, and more physical, and the better tackler. He’s an ideal fit for a man/press coverage scheme/role and has played some linebacker, both cornerback spots, and nickel back (has some versatility) during his career.
Note: Elite foot speed and athleticism isn’t his strength or skill set. He was dominated in week three by 49ers’ wide receiver Pierre Garcon who has a combination of power and speed. Garcon had seven catches for 142 yards while averaging 20.3 yards per catch when exclusively matched up against Johnson.
So what about Kyle Fuller?
The Forty-Niners would not need to overspend to acquire Fuller’s services, and based on his age, measurables, natural abilities, and upside, Fuller is the cheaper and younger (just turned 26 in February) option of the two cornerbacks with arguably the most upside. Fuller would have an opportunity to be a part of the youth movement that is taking shape in Santa Clara under the new regime, and be part of the future.
The needle might be pointing up at the right time for Fuller, and if you’re the 49ers, Fuller might give you the best bang for your buck. Johnson turns 29 years old in January 2019. Outside of his tackling concerns and past inconsistencies/injury in 2016, Fuller could very well be the answer (my preference is Fuller over Johnson) at cornerback to help stabilize the defensive secondary for years to come.
Recent Niners Live article alerts: Why the 49ers need an Upgrade over Offensive Linemen Brandon Fusco, and Why CB Aaron Colvin Might not be as Good as you Think, from a different perspective, of course.
Please join us again soon on Niners Live, the home of the faithful fan and analyst from an objective/analytical lens, of course. Often imitated, but never duplicated.
All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus, 49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author, Content Creator, player break down specialist, Co-Editor Sequoia Sims.