In the weeks leading up to the 2015 NFL Draft, it became one of the major talking points for the 49ers War Room:
How would San Francisco reload their defensive backfield through the draft?
It was a reasonable question. After all, aside from the other major departures that overtook the national headlines, the 49ers also lost both of their starting cornerbacks to free agency. Chris Culliver was poached by Washington (4-years, $32 million), while the Titans nabbed Perrish Cox on a 3-year, $15 million deal. Both of them combined for 9 of the team’s league-leading 23 interceptions in 2014. You throw in the fact that 49ers cornerbacks combined for 10 interceptions in 2014, and you realize that a lot of CB production just walked out the door.
Seven rounds and ten picks later, and the closest San Francisco got to drafting a cornerback was Samford SS Jaquiski Tartt in the second round – a hard-hitting project prospect who will likely replace incumbent Antoine Bethea in the next couple years. No Trae Waynes. No Marcus Peters. No immediate impact player in the secondary of any kind.
In many a post-draft review, analysts and reporters – particularly, one Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com – wondered aloud why they didn’t even bother addressing the cornerback position, at the very least, with a late-round pick. It was a glaring oversight for a team desperate for an impact CB. On that same vein, jaded 49ers fans used the front office’s lack of aforethought as just another reason to get rid of general manager Trent Baalke.
However, those same fans needed only to look at the 49ers current roster for the answer as to why they didn’t draft any CBs this year.
The fact is, the 49ers already have eight – count ’em – EIGHT cornerbacks on the current roster, not including nickel back specialist Jimmie Ward. Aside from free agent signee Shareece Wright, all of San Francisco’s cornerbacks have been on the roster for at least a year. It would be expected that, as of right now, a combination of Wright, Tramaine Brock and Dontae Johnson would be expected to vie for the starting jobs come September.
And this wouldn’t be very surprising. After all, Wright was signed to a one-year deal for $3 million (including $1 million in incentives) – a deal that essentially says:
“You have first dibs at a starting spot, but prove you deserve one.”
As for Brock and Johnson, the 49ers likely hope the former can pick up where he essentially left off in 2013 (13 passes defended, 5 INTs) before injuries derailed his 2014 season; and the latter can continue to improve off of a rookie year that saw 3 passes defended, and 1 INT returned for a game-saving TD at St. Louis.
However, I can understand why that wouldn’t really impress many 49ers fans itching for fresh blood at the cornerback position. Well, disillusioned Faithful, have I got the guys for you.
Meet Keith Reaser and Kenneth Acker – two of 2014’s late-round cornerback prospects. Your average 49ers fan probably don’t know who these two are, but that comes to be expected – neither actually played at all during the 2014 regular season.
There was good reason, though – Acker, despite impressing the coaching staff in the preseason, was unable to make the 53-man roster.
Why? Because the Florida Atlantic product had been playing with a stress fracture in his foot, and had to be shut down to prevent further damage. He was put on IR for the regular season.
As for Reaser, he was considered part of the “Baalke All-Injury Squad” – he tore an ACL late in 2013 against Alabama-Birmingham, and had been recovering ever since. Apparently, however, he was quite the speedster back in his SMU days – at his fastest, it was said he clocked a 4.32 40-yard dash. Both “second-year rookies” will likely push their starting counterparts in training camp, and perhaps even grab a starting spot themselves.
Now, the experience level of the current secondary lies with Brock, Wright and Cook – that said, this version is relatively young. But, considering the new coaching staff – and, possibly, a new defensive role for the cornerbacks – that might not necessarily be a bad thing. After all, most of the new corners are affluent in man coverage, and, if harnessed correctly, they could turn into a fearsome cornerback unit over the next few years.
In any case, the cornerback position for the 49ers just might be better off, as is.