This 2nd-year cornerback could have big impact for 49ers

While the Niners have plenty of options at cornerback, Darrell Luter Jr. might be a name to watch after limited contributions during his rookie season a year ago.
San Francisco 49ers cornerback Darrell Luter Jr. (28)
San Francisco 49ers cornerback Darrell Luter Jr. (28) / Cooper Neill/GettyImages

Darrell Luter Jr. has an opportunity to command a substantial role for the 49ers defense in 2024 if he makes that second-year leap.

The San Francisco 49ers have developed a recent trend of drafting players not necessarily for an immediate impact in their respective rookie years but for a year later.

Case in point, in 2021, the Niners used a second-round pick on offensive lineman Aaron Banks despite already having a Pro Bowl-caliber left guard in Laken Tomlinson. Banks hardly saw the field on offense his rookie year. But, when Tomlinson departed via free agency in 2022, Banks became the starter and thrived in the role.

Most recently, San Francisco's efforts in the 2024 NFL Draft appeared to focus largely on 2025's needs.

But, what about this season? Is it time for some 2023 draftees to step into the fray on a bigger basis?


One player to keep an eye on is second-year cornerback Darrell Luter Jr.

Taken in Round 5 out of South Alabama, Luter suffered a knee injury during offseason workouts and didn't see regular-season action for all but seven games, almost all of which were spent on special teams.

However, with plenty of long-term uncertainty at the position, could 2024 be the year in which Luter takes a substantial step forward?

49ers are hopeful for Darrel Luter Jr.

The 49ers made plenty of offseason moves at cornerback, all of which potentially stand in the way of Luter's ascent.

In free agency, the Niners grabbed veterans Isaac Yiadom and Rock Ya-Sin, both of whom could secure starting jobs opposite Charvarius Ward and Deommodore Lenoir, while the team also grabbed Florida State's Renardo Green in Round 2 of the draft.

Aside from Green, though, each of those names are signed only through 2024, meaning Luter should be able to challenge for a job right away with the prospect of potentially staying as a long-term starter.

"He's a guy we like," general manager John Lynch said of Luter last spring at the NFL Combine, via The Athletic's Matt Barrows.

In college, the 6-foot-0 and 190-pound Luter had five interceptions and 18 pass breakups over a three-year span, and San Francisco hopes a year of development can potentially translate into a bigger impact in 2024.

It's not yet clear whether or not Luter can emerge as a bona fide starting-caliber option, although the 49ers ideally have him as a top option to fill a void if and when veterans like Ward, Yiadom, Lenoir and Ya-Sin depart the team.

Ideally, at least for Luter, seizing a starting job happens a year earlier than originally planned.

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