The San Francisco 49ers could use a cornerback in the 2020 NFL Draft, but the later rounds might be where to get one. Is Nebraska’s Lamar Jackson a potential steal?
The San Francisco 49ers should keep an eye on Lamar Jackson this offseason.
Currently, San Francisco owns the No. 31 overall pick in April’s draft and won’t pick again until its two selections in Round 5, then again in Round 6 before two more in the seventh round. Barring a trade out of their first-round pick, the 49ers will have to think hard about postponing cornerback needs until day three of the draft.
If so, Jackson is a player who should pique general manager John Lynch‘s interests.
At 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, Jackson embodies the physique coordinator Robert Saleh prefers for his defense. A three-year starter, Jackson flashed some ballhawking tendencies over his final two collegiate years for the Cornhuskers, picking up five interceptions during that span:
Saleh’s Seattle Seahawks-like defense calls for lanky, long-limbed defensive backs, and Jackson checks off that box. Jackson’s playstyle also suggests he’d be a natural fit in a zone defense, too, which is also something San Francisco would like to employ.
"Very effective getting his hands on opponents in the contact window and redirecting their intentions in their route stems. Has developed his ball production and he has the length needed to both disrupt at the catch point and increase his margin for error as a pattern matcher. More than willing to be physical on the perimeter as a run defender and tackler."
Jackson, born in Northern California, uses his size to his advantage, frequently jamming big-bodied wide receivers at the line of scrimmage in press coverage. This could get him into some tricky situations at the NFL level, though, as the releases are far more complex. Jackson has yet to display the ability to react quickly, which is hopefully something coachable for him at the next level.
He doesn’t have elite-level speed, but that doesn’t always matter in a zone scheme. After all, another big-bodied cornerback on the 49ers, Richard Sherman, was never known for being a speed guy, instead using his strength and football smarts to make plays.
Jackson might have to rely on the same kind of attributes at the pro level. He won’t keep up with the faster crop of pro-level wideouts, and he’ll often require safety help over the top.
His quick-twitch reactions, straight-line speed and vertical jump will be traits to watch at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine in late February and early March, which could help him propel his draft stock up from a likely day-three pick.
If he stays as a possible Round 5 selection, though, don’t be shocked if the 49ers show some serious interest.