After years of neglecting it, the 49ers finally took stock in their weak cornerback room and potentially turned it into a strength this offseason.
You probably heard “the San Francisco 49ers need to add a cornerback in the NFL Draft” more than once out there leading up to April’s draft.
Even after the Niners made a big-ticket free-agent acquisition by signing former Kansas City Chiefs corner Charvarius Ward.
In 2020, a year in which general manager John Lynch elected not to grab a cornerback in that year’s draft, the problem at the position was mounting. It got worse in 2021 even though Lynch added two in corners Ambry Thomas and Deommodore Lenoir, as San Francisco instead had to rely more on aging veterans like Josh Norman and Dre Kirkpatrick with less-than-desirable results.
And when 49ers fans watched the Los Angeles Rams pick apart the Niners secondary with relative ease in the 2022 NFC Championship game, well, that said everything one needed to know.
Now, in the wake of the 2022 draft and heading into offseason workouts, it’s weird to think San Francisco’s cornerback room might actually be a team strength.
49ers presumably have their cornerback depth chart set
Interestingly enough, two of the 49ers’ biggest cornerback additions this offseason weren’t draft picks, rather free-agent pickups, Ward being one and then the low-risk re-signing of veteran corner Jason Verrett, who suffered a torn ACL in Week 1 last season.
Had the Niners re-signed Verrett without a contingency plan to guard against his long history of injuries, it would have been problematic, as we broke down earlier this offseason.
Yet San Francisco has those contingency plans in place now.
Right now, the 49ers’ offseason cornerback room looks like this (* denotes a rookie):
- Tariq Castro-Fields*
- Darqueze Dennard
- Ka’dar Hollman
- Dontae Johnson
- Qwantrezz Knight*
- Deommodore Lenoir
- Emmanuel Moseley
- Ambry Thomas
- Jason Verrett
- Charvarius Ward
- Samuel Womack*
Additionally, defensive backs Jimmie Ward and Tarvarius Moore are capable of playing cornerback, although both are likely pegged for safety duties in 2022.
The Niners presumably keep six cornerbacks on their 53-man roster, one probably inactive on game day. And despite them losing nickel corner K’Waun Williams in free agency to the Broncos, they nevertheless have replacement options.
Particularly with Ward, Verrett and Moseley all but assured regular-season roster spots, meaning the door is open for three more players, many of whom should be qualified to survive cuts.
49ers likely won’t need cornerbacks from 2022 NFL Draft to do too much
Here’s where the previous weakness turns into a strength.
It’s common for young defensive backs to struggle transitioning to life at the pro level, so thrusting either San Francisco’s fifth-round pick, Womack, or its sixth-round selection, Castro-Fields, into a prominent role right away would be a massive question mark.
Womack, whose intangibles emulate Williams in a lot of ways, could easily secure the top nickel role this season. If he doesn’t, though, one would assume Moseley winds up being the favorite, and it’s a job he’s performed before already, albeit in a relatively limited fashion.
If we include Womack on the list of presumed 53-man roster additions, that’d leave two spots left, and one of those likely winds up going to Thomas, who despite his early struggles his rookie year showed solid improvement down the stretch in 2021.
That leaves one final spot. Should it go to the always-around Johnson, or potentially the rookie, Castro-Fields? Maybe another veteran like Dennard gets it.
It’s hard to say, but it’s not a bad problem to have.
Of course, much of this hinges on Verrett’s ability to stay healthy, and it’s anyone’s guess how recovered he’ll be from last year’s injury. Even then, signs are pointing to the 49ers being able to absorb such a setback, should it happen.
Regardless, it’s weird to think the Niners are no longer barebones at cornerback heading towards organized team activities and training camp.