49ers 2020 ‘Who Is?’ series: Tim Harris a forgotten cornerback

Tim Harris #35 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Tim Harris #35 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

The 49ers redshirted then-rookie cornerback Tim Harris in 2019, yet he could end up playing a pivotal role in a position with question marks.

It’s a tall order to think the San Francisco 49ers didn’t select a cornerback in the 2020 NFL Draft because they had one of their 2019 draftees, Tim Harris, waiting in the folds.

That said, Harris could end up playing a key role this season and potentially beyond.

Harris was, of course, the Niners’ final pick of the 2019 NFL Draft. Coming off an elongated six-year collegiate career at Virginia, which was marked by plenty of injuries, Harris joined San Francisco as the 198th overall pick after his productive senior season:

Tim Harris Defense & Fumbles Table
TacklesDef IntFumbles

Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 6/29/2020.

Harris saw action in two preseason games his rookie year, picking up three tackles in the process. But before he could find a role on San Francisco’s deep defensive depth chart, he was placed on injured reserve, essentially redshirting his first year at the NFL level.

Still, there’s a lot to like about the Niners’ developmental pick. While the team appears to have its starting trio of cornerbacks in place for 2020, long-term needs could ultimately mean San Francisco’s plans for Harris extend well into 2021 and beyond.

If he capitalizes on the opportunity, of course, which is the subject of Niner Noise’s latest “Who Is?” installment.

Why Tim Harris improves with 49ers in 2020

It’s not hard to see why the Niners liked Harris. His 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame epitomizes what defensive coordinator Robert Saleh prefers for his boundary cornerbacks. Harris’ ranginess and straight-line speed are worth watching, too, as you can see in the video below:

These traits put him into a spot where both zone and man coverage could be handled relatively well, especially if he’s able to use his solid physicality.

There’s the proverbial “dog” to Harris’ game, and the film shows he’s not afraid to mix it up with opposing wide receivers.

For someone needing to play a lot of solo coverage, that’s a necessary trait from the snap to the reception point.

Why Tim Harris regresses with 49ers in 2020

Young defensive backs often struggle transitioning from the college ranks to the pros, and Harris missing his rookie season won’t help this matter. Pro-level routes are far more complex, the receivers are bigger and stronger, too.

And there’s the injury factor.

Harris isn’t always the most twitchy player, and he can be beat by quick moves at the second level. Considering his history of injuries, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him suffer setbacks while reacting to players who have the ability shaking Harris off in coverage.

Because of this, Harris might be forced to the more mental aspects of his game rather than relying solely on his physical abilities, and that could be tough for him early on when he takes the field.

Chances of making 49ers’ 53-man roster

Richard Sherman, Emmanuel Moseley and K’Waun Williams are the likely starting three for San Francisco at cornerback, while Ahkello Witherspoon, D.J. Reed and Dontae Johnson appear to be the primary backups. One can throw in the Niners’ undrafted free-agent addition from 2020, Alabama’s DeMarkus Acy, into the mix as well.

But Sherman, Williams, Witherspoon and Johnson will all be unrestricted free agents in 2021, while Moseley will be of the restricted type.

So, is it possible the 49ers envision Harris as a long-term option, potentially even starting?

Perhaps, yet it’s a complete unknown at this point. Harris has yet to take a snap at the pro level during the regular season, and even his exhibition snaps last year were limited. The traits are there to suggest a quality reserve with an outside chance of being a good starter in due time.

Yet those injuries have to be major red flags, too.

Because of this, Harris remains on the roster bubble. Considering his upside and the 49ers’ long-term needs, though, it’s probable Harris winds up getting as many chances as possible to hang around the back end of the team’s depth chart once Week 1 rolls around.

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If he stays healthy, of course.