Cornerback might be 49ers' biggest draft need, not offensive line

It's easy to speculate the 49ers focus their attention during this year's NFL Draft on the offensive line, but it might be wiser to worry about cornerbacks a bit more instead.
San Francisco 49ers cornerbacks Charvarius Ward (L) and Deommodore Lenoir (R)
San Francisco 49ers cornerbacks Charvarius Ward (L) and Deommodore Lenoir (R) / Michael Zagaris/GettyImages

While addressing the offensive line might be the 49ers' most popular NFL Draft priority, cornerback might actually be the bigger concern.

When thinking about the San Francisco 49ers' primary weakness heading into the 2024 NFL Draft, a general consensus is that general manager John Lynch will use at least a few of his 10 total picks to address the offensive line.

After all, the Niners could stand for some serious upgrades, particularly on the right side, and they'll need an eventual replacement for future Hall of Fame left tackle Trent Williams at some point, too.

Good thing this year's draft is loaded with O-line talent.

Left guard Aaron Banks and right guard Jon Feliciano are both pending free agents in 2025, while center Jake Brendel and right tackle Colton McKivitz aren't exactly top-tier starting-caliber options.

That said, it might be wiser (and more prudent) for San Francisco to shift its primary focus from the O-line to cornerback.

Cornerback is arguably more important 49ers draft need than offensive line

The 49ers need to find both upgrades and long-term replacements for their O-line soon, yes. That need doesn't go away entirely.

But it could be wiser for Lynch and Co. to look more at their cornerback needs, particularly with the understanding that young defensive backs often struggle in the transition from the college ranks to the pros and frequently need at least a year's development to fully acclimate.

Heading into 2024, the Niners have a fully stocked cornerback room consisting of Charvarius Ward, Deommodore Lenoir, Isaac Yiadom, Ambry Thomas and the recently signed Rock Ya-Sin.

All five are pending free agents after this season.

Ward, coming off his first Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro campaign in 2023, could easily price himself out of San Francisco's financial comfort range a year from now, and Lenoir could also seek his first significant contract once his rookie deal expires. It's likely the 49ers won't re-sign both players, and their current salary-cap restaints could mean both ultimately walk.

Yiadom and Ya-Sin may also merely be one-year fill-ins to ensure the depth chart is adequate enough amid the team's current Super Bowl window.

Unlike the O-line, though, this year's cornerback draft class isn't quite as deep and talented, meaning the Niners may have to be a bit more aggressive with their search for one, perhaps two young defensive backs who can be infused into the pipeline now so that they'd be poised to potentially take over one of the many pending starting jobs that are likely to open up in 2025.

As such, don't be surprised if San Francisco opts to go with cornerbacks early in the draft instead of using those selections strictly on O-linemen.

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