ORLANDO, Fla. – The addition of Richard Sherman won't keep the San Francisco 49ers out of the cornerback market. There's a chance that the team still adds another via free agency or the 2018 NFL Draft.
As it stands, Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon will be the 49ers starting outside corners next season. K'Waun Williams is expected to be the starting nickel corner. But there are two additional names currently on the roster who could factor into the equation as well.
Jimmie Ward is the first. Ward has bounced around the 49ers secondary since being taken with the 30th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. He began as a safety, moved to nickel, then to the outside before opening the 2017 season as San Francisco's starting free safety. The emergence of Adrian Colbert has given the 49ers a trifecta of talented safeties with Jaquiski Tartt being the other. If Colbert ends up being the team's best option at free safety, it only makes sense to tap into Ward's versatility.
"Jimmie Ward has played some outside corner in his career," John Lynch said on Monday. "We're going to experiment with that this offseason and see if that's viable."
Injuries have been Ward's biggest bugaboo since entering the NFL. A lingering foot injury hampered his rookie season. Two years ago it was a hamstring strain. A broken forearm ended his 2017 campaign prematurely. Ward has missed 22 games over his four-year career, but the 49ers still believe in his upside. The athletic defensive back is set to earn $8.5 million in 2018 which makes him the highest paid player on San Francisco's defense.
The other name to keep an eye on next season is Greg Mabin. San Francisco originally added Mabin to its practice squad in October before promoting him to the active roster. His top moment of the season was helping to close the flood gates against DeAndre Hopkins in a Week 14 win against the Houston Texans. Hopkins, who posted 11 receptions for 149 yards and two touchdowns in the game, had dominated the 49ers defense on back-to-back possessions. Mabin subbed into the contest midway through the third quarter and helped hold Hopkins without another catch until the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
"He's a guy we think very highly of," Lynch said. "He's got to continue to develop. Unfortunately, right when he started to get on the field, he was injured with a calf strain. We feel guys like that are going to have to emerge and step up."
As for the draft, Ohio State's Denzel Ward, Iowa's Josh Jackson and UCF's Mike Hughes are the top three cornerback prospects in this year's class.