Niners Live presents a pre-draft assessment of the potential cornerback selections that may be available in the 3rd round, and how the selection would fit in the 4-3 scheme of Robert Saleh.
Fearless Predictions: 49ers select one of the following cornerbacks in the 3RD round if available, Kevin King (Washington), Ahkello Witherspoon (Colorado), Rasul Douglas (West Virginia).
The returning talent at cornerback and how they fit:
The secondary is only as good as the pass rush, and that’s fact, not fiction. Here’s another fact for you, nobody knows that to be truer than the San Francisco 49ers, who have lacked a pass rush worth speaking of since the departure of Aldon Smith.
With little to no quarterback pressure to speak of, opposing quarterbacks can sit back in the pocket and play catch with anybody that is open, so to speak. Okay, that’s plenty of adverse conversation, for now, how about some encouraging conversation?
While ranking 32nd in team defense in 2016, it may shock you to know the 49ers ranked 19th in passing defense in 2016, which is nine spots higher than their 27th ranked passing defense in the previous 2015 season (Sports Football Reference).
Contrary to popular belief, and contrary to what the numbers reflect (ranked last in team defense in 2016), the 49ers are above average in terms of talent in the secondary, and that’s not as bad as it seems. Yes, I said that, but hear me out. Pressure bursts pipes, and lack of consistent and formidable quarterback pressure has created a much more daunting task for the secondary when attempting to play/maintain the tight and disciplined coverage necessary to prevent opposing offenses from finding open players and creating big plays for chunk yardage and touchdowns.
Let’s call it as it is. Thus far, opposing teams may as well have been playing a friendly game of catch with their players due to lack of consistent pressure. It has looked like a passing league on Sundays at times. It doesn’t matter who the cornerbacks are (including Hall of Fame and two-time Super Bowl Champion Deion Sanders), they can’t cover forever. They need assistance from the pass rush to be good at what they do.
It’s a known fact that a secondary is only as good as the pass rush it plays behind. In short, the success of any secondary is predicated upon the pressure created by the front seven (defensive lineman and linebackers) of the defense with minimal blitzes. Some may say with little to no change in the roster, there’ll be little to no change in the performance. That’s not necessarily the case. Here’s why. The 49ers transitioning to the 4-3 (possibly five with the LEO linebacker at the line of scrimmage in the 4-3 under) using four defensive linemen to rush the quarterback will better control the line of scrimmage and pressure the quarterback.
With increased production from the four down lineman getting pressure and keeping linebackers clean (occupying offensive lineman before they get upfield to the linebackers), the less resistance the linebackers face when filling gaps and blitzing. In addition, this type of production also allows the linebackers to focus on coverage underneath, which means they do not have to blitz to get pressure.
Though there is no standout pass rusher for the 49ers, there are, indeed, some quite talented and promising young guys in the secondary that helped bump the team nine spots (from 27th in 2015 to 19th in 2016) in pass defense ranking, namely, second-year cornerback Rashard Robinson who will build on a strong rookie campaign in his sophomore season. Some other notable names in the secondary the 49ers have under contract in the upcoming 2017 season are as follows: Tramaine Brock, Jimmie Ward (possibly moving to safety), Keith Reaser, Will Redmond, and Dontae Johnson. Any of the aforementioned can produce either man to man, or off man, or in zone coverage with sufficient quarterback pressure.
The 49ers have some decent talent at cornerback (highlighted by (Tramaine Brock and Rashard Robinson), but the addition of a big game rookie cornerback with good size via the draft with potential to compete for a starting spot wouldn’t hurt. I mentioned good size, because if you look around the league (and even in our own division) over the recent years, cornerbacks are a good 6’1-6’3 with good speed, coverage, and ball skills. Luckily for the 49ers, there are plenty of rookies in the draft this year that fit this bill. Allow me to briefly discuss three 6’2″ or taller, physical, ball-hawking rookies that would be great additions if available in the 3rd round for the 49ers.
Possible draft selections:
- Kevin King, University of Washington, 6’3 200 lbs., has good speed, great ball skills, and is as physical as they come, as seen in the video. King is also in Matt Mayock’s top 5 players at his position (via team’s website), and rightly so. I couldn’t agree with Matt Mayock more on his top 5 list. Though he has a 2nd round grade and is ranked the 10th best at his position by CBS sports, if he happens to fall to the 3rd round and is still on the board, I believe King is the best pick at that point in the draft and could be a huge addition to the young, talented, and opportunistic cornerbacks on the 49ers roster (scouting report via NFL.com).
- Ahkello Witherspoon, University of Colorado, 6’3 198 lbs., and can flat out ball as seen in the video. This kid can play, and is always around the ball. He has a nose for the ball and possesses the natural instincts to make plays on the football whether it be in the air or in the ground game (see scouting report).
- Rasul Douglas, University of West Virginia, 6’2 209 lbs. Davis has earned the name “interception machine” and lives up to his name as seen in the video. With a combination of size, speed, ball and coverage skills, and the rare ball-hawking ability to always find the ball, Davis will also be an upgrade to the 49ers’ secondary if available (see scouting report).
I’ll leave you with this:
Due in part to an absent pass rush, the 49ers secondary has looked outmatched and even talent deprived at times, but it can be argued that there is formidable talent in the secondary with the current roster. The addition of Kevin King as the first pick, or any of the three young and hungry rookie cornerbacks mentioned in this article, along with the switch to the 4-3/4-3 under, will gain better control of the line of scrimmage. In addition, with an upgraded pass rush, the San Francisco 49ers will have a vastly improved secondary, and potentially be a top 10 defense in the NFL this season rather than ranked dead last at 32nd as they were in the 2016 season. Laugh if you will, but the 49ers are a pass rush (edge rusher) and lockdown cornerback away from again being both competitive and dominant on defense.
On a Niners Live side note: Niners live previously discussed: Fearless Predictions: The 49ers Draft “DE Solomon Thomas”, How New DC Robert Saleh should Utilize his Defensive Talent and Will Redmond Emerge as the Draft Gem of 2016?
As always, keep your eyes wide open, 49er fans. Niners Live will be watching with you. #eyeswideopen and often imitated but never duplicated… Go Niners.
Welcome to Lyftlive.com.
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, Kevin Mitchell new Staff Writer at Niners Live. Co-Author, Editor NinersLive.