Perhaps no positional unit on the San Francisco 49ers is in need of reinforcements as much as cornerback. The 49ers appear to have a tremendous building block in Ahkello Witherspoon, and a capable starter in K’Waun Williams. Outside of that, the cornerback group leaves a lot to be desired. In 2017, Dontae Johnson started all 16 games, and was one of the worst cornerbacks in football according to PFF. Filling out the rest of the depth chart are Antone Exum Jr., Greg Mabin, and Leon Hall. If the 49ers are to make a serious run at a division title, they will need to add another cornerback or two.
Potential San Francisco 49ers Cornerbacks
The 49ers have a rare opportunity to steal a talent from a division rival. After the Los Angeles Rams traded for Marcus Peters, it became apparent that they would let Trumaine Johnson walk in free agency. With his 6’2” frame, Johnson has the size and length that the 49ers covet at cornerback. Pairing him with Witherspoon would give the 49ers a very formidable pair of outside cornerbacks.
Johnson will not be cheap, however. He is projected to receive a deal worth upwards of $13 million a year. But the 49ers have a ton of cap space and could easily afford Johnson. There are rumors that Johnson is heavily considering the 49ers. It appears likely that the 49ers and Johnson are a match made in heaven.
With his late game heroics in Super Bowl XLIX, Malcolm Butler went from being an un-drafted cornerback far down on the New England Patriots depth chart, to a household name and a star. Butler has evolved his game considerably since that play and has become one of the better cornerbacks in the league.
Like Johnson, Butler is projected to make roughly $13 million a year. While Butler is talented, the last time Butler was on a football field, he was benched in Super Bowl LII. In addition Butler is only 5’11” which is not exactly what the 49ers are looking for. If the 49ers miss out on Johnson, then they might be more willing to look past Butler’s height.
If the 49ers decide Johnson and Butler are too expensive, then they could pursue Rashaan Melvin. Melvin played great in 2017, and graded out incredibly well according to PFF. Melvin started ten games in 2017 for the Indianapolis Colts, and had three interceptions to go along with 25 pass break-ups.
Other than 2017, Melvin’s career is rather pedestrian. His first two years saw him bounce around between the Baltimore Ravens, the Miami Dolphins, and the Patriots. If the 49ers were to make a run at Melvin, they would be taking a chance that 2017 was not a fluke. If they are convinced that 2017 was a break-out campaign, his 6’2” frame would fit nicely with the 49ers.
Past drafts have seen an incredible number of cornerbacks from Ohio State go in the first round. Denzel Ward appears to be the next product of that cornerback factory. Almost every mock draft has Ward as the first cornerback off the board. His man-to-man coverage skills make it easy to see why.
Ward, however, is on the small side. His 5’10” frame are not in line with what Robert Saleh covets in his cornerbacks. But Ward is the type of talent that could transcend scheme, and the 49ers should seriously consider drafting him with the ninth overall pick.
In the 2017 NFL draft, the 49ers selected two players from Iowa in George Kittle and C.J. Beathard. They could dip back into that well by selecting Josh Jackson in the first round. Jackson is 6’1,” which is more in line with how the 49ers would like their cornerbacks to look.
Jackson had a statement game against Ohio State where he had three interceptions, including a spectacular one-handed pick. He has incredible ball skills. That type of playmaking ability would fit well in San Francisco.
If there was a perfect player for the 49ers to draft, it would be Isaiah Oliver. Oliver has the size and length that would make him a perfect fit. His strengths are using his length as a press corner, which is what the 49ers like in their cornerbacks.
More than that, he is also an incredible athlete, with tons of room to grow. Oliver is projected to go in the first round like Ward and Jackson. Pairing Oliver with Witherspoon would give the 49ers two starting cornerbacks from Colorado, and an incredibly bright future at the position.