It wouldn’t be overly shocking to see the San Francisco 49ers add to their cornerback crop in the 2019 NFL Draft, and Clemson’s Trayvon Mullen could be enticing in Round 2.
While a top-tier edge rusher is likely the first target for the San Francisco 49ers in the 2019 NFL Draft, finding a cornerback should also be high on the team’s offseason wish list.
True, free agency might reveal some options. And the team should be hopeful for bounce-back years from boundary corners Ahkello Witherspoon and Tarvarius Moore this upcoming season. But after Pro Football Focus ranked the Niners secondary dead last in 2018, one can see how some upgrades would be useful.
Enter Clemson cornerback Trayvon Mullen, who finished his collegiate career on one of the highest notes possible, recording a sack, an interception and a forced fumble during the Tigers’ lopsided win over Alabama in the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship game.
The 49ers may not just be seeking an upgrade over Witherspoon and Moore, but also a long-term replacement for veteran cornerback Richard Sherman, who’ll turn 31 years old this month.
Would Mullen make sense for San Francisco?
Trayvon Mullen’s Strengths
Mullen’s 6-foot-1, 199-pound frame seems ideal for outside duties at the NFL level, and he was able to showcase enough speed at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine, which saw him run a 4.46 40-yard time.
Getting under 4.5 seconds was crucial for Mullen, as there are some questions about his straight-line speed. But he makes up for that with solid recovery abilities. And rare are the times where bigger wide receivers are able to get by him easily at the line of scrimmage.
As a result, and as PFF pointed out, Mullen didn’t give up a whole lot of yardage last season:
For the most part, the evidence suggests Mullen is a blanket cornerback, who rarely gives up open windows for elongated periods of time. As a result, he’s not often targeted.
The game tape from Clemson’s 2018 matchup versus Duke indicates that:
This wasn’t unlike Sherman with the 49ers in 2018, who was rarely targeted on his side of the field. Now, it’s anyone’s guess whether or not Mullen is trending towards being a true shutdown corner.
But so far, he at least has the signs to be capable of doing this.
Trayvon Mullen’s Weaknesses
Mullen enjoyed playing behind one of the best defensive fronts in college football last season. As such, few opposing quarterbacks had the chance to wait for receivers’ routes to break open.
One of the challenges Mullen could face at the NFL level will be reacting to bigger and better receivers. As The Draft Network’s Joe Marino pointed out, Mullen could struggle with “a lack of ideal short area quickness” in the pro ranks, where the better outside receivers make their money.
On top of that, the relative lack of targeting could lead to more difficulty recognizing pro-level routes, making Mullen’s coverage abilities more reactive than anything else.
And one shouldn’t think his performance against Alabama was totally indicative of the year he had in 2018.
It’s good to finish strong, though.
Potential Fit with the 49ers
The good news for San Francisco is Mullen’s frame epitomizes what the team is trying to get from its outside corners in a Cover 3, zone-style scheme.
Mullen should handle these kinds of duties well, where he won’t have to worry too much about man coverage.
Now, the question is whether or not the Niners would be interested. Mullen is hanging around being a possible day-one selection during April’s NFL Draft. It’s possible, perhaps even likely, his stock dips into Round 2, however, where the 49ers hold pick No. 36 overall.
If the 49ers feel comfortable with their current crop of corners, or grab someone else on the free-agent market, a Mullens-to-San Francisco pairing would be somewhat redundant.
But if such a void remains, and the Niners like what they see in a talented-yet-relatively untested defensive back, it wouldn’t be overly shocking to see Mullen’s name called with the team’s second-round selection.
The 2019 draft kicks off on Thursday, April 25 from Nashville, Tennessee.