The 49ers need to address long-term cornerback needs, which is what ESPN’s Todd McShay thinks will happen in Round 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft.
The San Francisco 49ers could experience a lot of turnover within their secondary entering 2021. Defensive backs Richard Sherman, Ahkello Witherspoon, Jaquiski Tartt and Emmanuel Moseley are all pending free agents, and the Niners are looking at a situation where they already have roughly $170 million committed to players next year against what’s looking to be a league-wide salary cap of $175 million.
Needless to say, there are going to be some tough decisions and it’s highly likely the 2021 defensive backfield will look tremendously different than what head coach Kyle Shanahan and Co. will field this season.
So it makes sense to think San Francisco will go after cornerbacks early and potentially often in next year’s NFL Draft.
At least that’s what ESPN’s Todd McShay is thinking in his first mock for the 2021 draft.
McShay has the 49ers selecting at No. 29 overall, based on ESPN’s Football Power Index, and with that Round 1 selection the Niners select cornerback Israel Mukuamu out of South Carolina:
Niners defensive coordinator Robert Saleh loves length at cornerback for his physical single-high scheme, and Mukuamu is a 6-foot-4 press corner with arm length for days. His ball production was outstanding in 2019 with nine passes broken up and four picks, though he is still developing his recognition skills.
Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon lead a pack of seven cornerbacks on this San Francisco roster playing on the last year of their deals this season. Mukuamu has the football sense to pick up the scheme quickly and make a big impact in his first pro season.
There’s little questioning Mukuamu would be on San Francisco’s radar. As of late, general manager John Lynch has enjoyed looking at former Gamecocks, namely wide receiver Deebo Samuel back in 2019 and defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw in 2020.
How Israel Mukuamu would fit with 49ers
Long, lanky corners are ideal for Saleh’s scheme, too, yet Mukuamu’s skill set isn’t just based on the raw intangibles. He has excellent reaction skills, at least according to this particular scouting report, and the efforts show up on tape, too:
What’s also impressive is Mukuamu flashing some ballhawk abilities back in 2019, picking off a total of four interceptions, including three versus Georgia last year, and breaking up nine passes over the course of 12 games played.
There’s good reaction speed to his game, and it appears as if he has little trouble identifying routes accordingly, all the while using his large frame to frustrate receivers right off the snap. That’ll surely be beneficial to San Francisco’s defense.
And considering the 49ers’ need to get some up-and-coming players on rookie contracts the next few seasons, it’s not hard to reason why Mukuamu would be a potential priority.
There are going to be some challenges, however, namely due to the current pandemic and just how much of the 2020 NCAA season is affected by numerous conference delays and cancellations. The SEC hasn’t canceled its upcoming season and is slated to play an in-conference year only at this point.
But as has been the case during the pandemic, things are subject to change.
Just how much this affects a player like Mukuamu’s NFL Draft stock is anyone’s guess, and it’s possible he winds up putting together a campaign to push him higher up and away from the Niners’ projected draft positioning.
For now, however, it would appear he could easily fall right into San Francisco’s collective lap when the 2021 draft rolls around.
Hat tip to 49ers Webzone for the find.