With the 2020 NFL Draft just over two months away, the San Francisco 49ers are going to be limited on resources, yet they still should target a promising cornerback.
The San Francisco 49ers need to find a long-term solution at cornerback.
With limited resources available in free agency this offseason, and only one pick in the first four rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft, the Niners are going to have to think wisely about how they can upgrade one of the more questionable positions on the team’s roster going into the upcoming year.
Cornerback was abused by the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. Veteran corner Richard Sherman, despite playing lights out during the regular season and into the playoffs, gave up that crucial touchdown to Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Fellow cornerback Emmanuel Moseley missed his assignment on fellow Kansas City wideout Tyreek Hill, allowing the Chiefs to convert a 3rd-and-15.
The guy Moseley replaced in the playoffs, Ahkello Witherspoon, regressed after suffering an elongated foot sprain early in the season.
One or two plays here and there, even a down season, doesn’t necessarily indicate any team should move on from a player. Quick judgment isn’t always a good idea here, and there’s always a solid chance players like Moseley and Witherspoon emerge into realistic long-term options.
The 49ers hold the No. 31 overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft and won’t pick again until Round 5. Sure, a trade down is always a possibility, perhaps even a likelihood. But whatever the case might be, San Francisco needs to think hard about drafting a cornerback early.
Perhaps above all other roster needs, which arguably include the offensive line, wide receiver, safety and perhaps even at running back.
Simply stated, the Niners have more questions at cornerback than they do at any other position entering 2020. Sherman, who’ll enter the final season of the three-year deal he signed back in 2018, will also turn 32 years old this March. Witherspoon, who played well before injuring his foot back in Week 3, also enters a contract year and has bounced back and forth between being solid and a liability, 2020 being a perfect microcosm.
Of the aforementioned trio, only Moseley looks to be a safe bet for a long-term option. And even if Witherspoon bounces back in a huge way this year, a long-term replacement for Sherman is likely going to be high on general manager John Lynch’s priority list this offseason.
Is safety a concern for San Francisco? Absolutely. Defensive back Jimmie Ward, who excelled at free safety in 2019, is about to hit the open market. Ward says he wants to stay. But even if he doesn’t, a contingency plan would either be for two-year pro Tarvarius Moore to fill Ward’s spot, or even have Jaquiski Tartt bounce from strong safety over to free safety, perhaps letting depth defensive back Marcell Harris fill the void down low.
As far as wide receiver goes, Deebo Samuel‘s maturation helps alleviate a lot of questions if the veteran, Emmanuel Sanders, ultimately departs in free agency. It’s still a potential need, yes, but not quite as major as cornerback.
That’s the gist, essentially: Sherman is nearing the end of his contract and getting further along on the wrong side of 30 years old, while Witherspoon’s inconsistencies point to the 49ers looking elsewhere.
And it’s a situation the Nines should better consider sooner than later.
There are a number of factors yet to be played out between now and the start of the 2020 NFL Draft, yes. But if the 49ers are narrowing down their top needs, cornerback should be right up at the top of the list.