If today was March 17, the 49ers cornerbacks heading into 2021 would account for a total of just 11 of San Francisco's defensive snaps last season. Each of those snaps came by way of Ken Webster, who was signed from the Miami Dolphins practice squad in Week 2 and appeared in nine games and registered four tackles and one forced fumble on special teams.
Beyond Webster, who was re-signed to a one-year deal in January, Tim Harris Jr. (49ers 2019 seventh-round pick), Adonis Alexander (signed to Reserve/Future contract in Jan. 2021) and Mark Fields II (claimed off waivers in March 2021), are the lone cornerbacks that head into the season under contract for the once-league leading passing defense.
Needless to say, cornerback appears as the most pressing need for the 49ers this offseason. Richard Sherman, Jason Verrett, Ahkello Witherspoon, K'Waun Williams and Jamar Taylor, who all started at least three games for San Francisco in 2020, are on the tail end of expiring contracts. Emmanuel Moseley, a restricted free agent, adds to the list of corners who could explore options elsewhere this offseason.
The 49ers could look to replace departing defensive backs through veteran talent on the open market beginning next week. March 15 is the official date when the legal negotiating window ahead of free agency opens. Although there's a notable deal of depth at the position, those available do come with their share of question marks. Pro Football Focus graded out the strength of the cornerback free agency class with a B-, with the caveat that despite the quality seasons on their resume, very few have shown consistency or are coming off their best season.
An alternative, and inexpensive, option for San Francisco is landing plug and play talent via the draft. San Francisco currently owns the No. 12 overall pick with a number of pressing needs the team can address at that position. Additionally, San Francisco owns the No. 43 overall pick in the second round. The 49ers direction next month will likely weigh heavily on their movement in free agency.
Alabama's Patrick Surtain II and Virginia Tech's Caleb Farley are two of the top cornerback prospects in this year's draft and both have been pinned to the 49ers in Round 1. In addition to cornerback, several mock drafts have linked the offensive line, quarterback and even the tight end position to the 49ers at No. 12. Should the 49ers opt to go a different direction in Round 1, NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah thinks there's plenty of opportunity for cornerback-needy defenses to land quality immediate-impact talent beyond the first 32 picks.
"It's a really good group of corners in Round 2, and then after that, it really starts to drop off on my list," Jeremiah said on a two-hour conference call on Tuesday. "For those teams looking for corners, they're going to all go. So, you better get on that ride early in the first or second round."
Jeremiah offered two groups of early round cornerbacks. The primary consists of four prospects who are likely to come off the board in the first round: Farley, Surtain II, South Carolina's Jaycee Horn and Northwestern's Greg Newsome II. Pending late-round needs, Jeremiah believes Newsome II could slide to Round 2.
Beyond that quartet, Jeremiah sees a bit of a drop off between the projected first-round corners. However, he foresees opportunity for Round 2 prospects to continue to boost their draft stock through Pro Days and player evaluations over the coming weeks.
"I think we're going to see four guys separate from the pack," he added. "You're going to have Farley. You're going to have Surtain II. Those are going to be the Top 2. I think there's a little bit of a gap between those guys and then you get to Jaycee Horn. I think Greg Newsome II is quickly closing that space with Jaycee horn to the fact where I wouldn't be shocked if Newsome II ended up going ahead of him. I think it's those four guys, and to me there's a little bit of a drop off where you have some more questions on the guys after that big four."
Here's a list of prospects that Jeremiah believes could be valuable finds for San Francisco in Round 2:
Greg Newsome II, Northwestern: "He just ran 4.31, according to a GM that just texted me from that Pro Day. So, he's not going to be there in the second round. He is probably going to end up going in the 20s when it's all said and done. But he is a really good football player."
Kelvin Joseph, Kentucky: "(Joseph's) really, really fluid (and) athletic. He's got great ball skills. He's one of those guys that got torched by (Florida tight end Kyle) Pitts, but I'm not going to hold that against him."
Aaron Robinson, Central Florida: "(Robinson) primarily played inside there, but he's real tough, physical (and) aggressive. Easy, easy speed."
Tyson Campbell, Georgia: "If you're looking for big corners, I think both of the Georgia corners are going to go in the second round. When you look at Tyson Campbell, as well as (Eric) Stokes from Georgia, both those guys are big and fast."
Eric Stokes, Georgia: "Eric Stokes, the other day, everybody saw the training; he was running like the 4.2s. So, both those guys, one was a state champ in Georgia in high school, the other was a state champ in Florida. Those are big time size, speed corners that I think you'll see come on the board there in the second round."