Despite re-signing some top names, the 49ers could still use a young cornerback in the 2021 NFL Draft, and Asante Samuel Jr. is a great target.
The San Francisco 49ers moving up from No. 12 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft to No. 3 overall all but ensures they’ll be selecting a quarterback with their first-round pick, passing up on top cornerbacks like Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II or South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn.
Yet cornerback is still a team need, both immediately and especially for long-term ramifications.
True, the Niners re-signed corners Jason Verrett, K’Waun Williams and Emmanuel Moseley during the offseason. But Verrett and Williams are back only on one-year deals, and both players enter the upcoming season with notable injury concerns. Verrett, despite being healthy last year, played only six games between 2016 and 2019, and Williams missed eight games a season ago.
So, while a cornerback in Round 1 is essentially off the table, it wouldn’t be shocking to see general manager John Lynch use San Francisco’s second-round pick, No. 43 overall, to address this need.
One target worth honing in on is Florida State cornerback Asante Samuel Jr.
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference
Son of the four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel, Samuel Jr. certainly brings the same pedigree out of college and into the NFL Draft, flashing a lot of the same traits his father showcased over an exceptional 11-year career.
And while the younger Samuel stands at a shortish 5-foot-10 and 184 pounds, there are plenty of reasons to believe his size won’t work against him at the pro level.
Breaking down Asante Samuel Jr.’s fit with 49ers
Traditionally, the Niners have preferred long, lanky cornerbacks on the boundary. But recently, there’s been a bit of a shift away from this tendency. Both Verrett and Moseley are below 6-foot-0 and have manned outside-corner duties. So it’s not absolute for San Francisco to strictly target big-bodied corners moving forward.
Plus, not unlike Williams, Samuel plays much bigger than his size would indicate. While some smaller corners aren’t necessarily aggressive enough defending against the run, Samuel checks off that box easily and also doesn’t hesitate to go up against bigger, stronger wide receivers either.
Aside from some of the “gift” interceptions in the video below, you can get an idea how Samuel’s aggressiveness works in his favor when matching up against larger wideouts:
Speaking of those interceptions, however, Samuel does position himself well enough in zone coverage to create these opportunities. While some of the picks seem as if the quarterback was telegraphing throws right to him, occupying key areas of space will often lead to those chances.
Samuel is able to check off that box, too.
The cornerback’s speed and change-of-direction abilities make for a quality man-coverage defender, but this wouldn’t cross him off from benefiting in a zone-style system either.
NFL Mocks’ Dylan Appleman broke it down:
"The first things that stand out when watching Asante Samuel Jr. are his quick feet and fluidity when flipping his hips to track downfield. There weren’t very many examples of guys getting separation from Samuel deep because even if he was beaten on a break, he was able to make up ground in a hurry. He always seemed to be right on the hip of his man, which is proven by his class low 46.2 passer rating in coverage last season."
He might need a bit of finesse in the latter department. But the flexibility to do either works in his favor.
As far as fitting in with the 49ers, it’s possible they’d see Samuel as a versatile defensive back capable of lining up over the slot or even on the outside. The Niners have long-term needs for both areas. And even if Samuel’s lack of size limits him almost solely to nickel work, the tendency of defenses using sub packages more than base formations essentially make this position a starter in today’s NFL.
And Samuel would be worth grabbing.
Currently, Samuel looks to be a solid Round 2 candidate. While there’s an outside chance he could slip into the back end of Round 1, one would think San Francisco has a second-round grade on him and could prioritize him above some of the other team needs it has early on day two of the NFL Draft, which kicks off on Friday, April 30.