The 49ers lost nickel cornerback K’Waun Williams in free agency, but they gained a would-be replacement in the 2022 NFL Draft.
From 2017 through 2021, one of the San Francisco 49ers’ bigger unsung heroes was nickel cornerback K’Waun Williams.
Slot corners rarely receive the attention (and pay) boundary cornerbacks get, yet any paying-close-attention Niners fan can attest to the kind of impact Williams had against three-wide formations, both as an excellent coverage option and occasional blitzer.
Williams is gone, of course, joining the Denver Broncos as a free agent this offseason.
Yet San Francisco spent considerable effort reinforcing its cornerback room during the offseason, too, inking boundary corner Charvarius Ward and then reuniting with one of its injury losses from a year ago, veteran Jason Verrett, who’ll be poised to occupy the opposite outside spot if he’s fully healthy.
However, the 49ers didn’t go with the veteran route to replace Williams, instead using a 2022 NFL Draft pick on Toledo defensive back Samuel Womack, a player who emulates the veteran he’s potentially tabbed to replace in many ways.
Still, the fifth-round rookie is, well… a rookie. He won’t be guaranteed a starting job at all.
On top of that, the Niners have plenty of options to fill in for Williams anyway.
Let’s look at some of them.
49ers option No. 1: Jimmie Ward moves down from safety
The first option isn’t necessarily a preferable one, but it’s possible.
Veteran safety Jimmie Ward has played essentially every position within the secondary. Last year, according to Pro Football Focus, he saw 169 coverage snaps as a nickel back and gave up 12 receptions on 19 targets there.
San Francisco has a number of other safeties who could plug Ward’s gap, should this happen. But the trio of Talanoa Hufanga, George Odum and Tarvarius Moore have historically been special teams contributors first, then fill-in safeties after that. And even then, they’ve served primarily as big-nickel safeties only.
On top of that, still-free agent Jaquiski Tartt isn’t back, meaning it wouldn’t seem too likely the 49ers would strip both of last year’s starting-safety tandem just to have Ward cover the slot.
It is a possibility, though, if the Niners were desperate.