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If there was any one game last year that signaled the direction the 49ers might take in the draft, it was the 37-31 loss to Chicago. When Jason Webster and Anthony Parker went down with injuries, the Bears picked the remaining 49ers secondary apart with their lousy 'dink-and-dunk’ passing game. It was clearly a game the 49ers would have won with a good nickel corner.
What makes this draft so tough to call is also a sign of how well the 49ers have been drafting the past few years: the 49ers’ major need is depth in the secondary, offensive line, and defensive line. The 49ers need a corner, but he will probably not start over Webster and Plummer. The 49ers need a pass rusher, but they are not likely to get one who will unseat Andre Carter, John Engelberger, and Chike Okeafor. They need young offensive lineman, but will any draft pick this year beat out any of our current starters right away? Doubtful.
In fact, the only position that appears to lack a solid starter is wide receiver, where JJ Stokes and Tai Streets provide quality depth but are not good enough to be #2 behind Terrell Owens.
Of all the positions, the depth at corner is the least stable, so we will start there.
Who We Can’t Take
Quentin Jammer, Texas 5-11, 197, 4.50
53 tackles, 2 ints, 23 passes broken up
The most complete corner in the draft will be taken in the top ten and is not a factor for the 49ers.
Phillip Buchanon, Miami (Fl) 5-11, 183, 4.52
25 tackles, 5 ints, 7 passes broken up
The top guy on some draft boards. Probably the best pure cover corner. Will go somewhere between five and fifteen in the first round. Tough to see him sliding past the Bengals, who desperately need a corner.
Who We Should Take
Kenyuo Craver, Nebraska 5-10, 190, 4.58
60 tackles, 3 ints, 13 passes broken up
Craver’s stock took a hit with his poor 40-yard dash, and he could now go anywhere from the late-first to the mid-second. A three-year starter for the Cornhuskers who also saw action in all 12 games his freshman year, Craver combines a physical game with mental toughness and a solid work ethic. A top athlete with great cover skills. He has tremendous leaping ability (he competes in the triple jump for the track team). He has the hips and quickness to be a top cover man. He also looks much faster on the field than on the track. Can play in all coverage schemes. Is not tall, but is very stoutly built. Great tackler. Plays aggressively and will hit. A top special teams contributor. Durable, never missed a start. He has good hands even though he did not pick off a lot of passes at Nebraska. Has experience returning punts.
The only question with Craver is how the 49ers would get him. They may not want to take a nickel corner in the first round, but he may be there if they trade down into the second.
Mike Echols, Wisconsin 5-9, 187, 4.4
67 tackles, 3 ints, 13 passes broken up
A good cover man with great intensity and work ethic who should fall into the late second, early third. Was a starter from his first day as a freshman and never missed a game. He has a lot of Jason Webster in his game. Is not that tall, but it does not effect his play. Shut down Michigan’s Marquise Walker (6’3”) and Minnesota’s Ron Johnson (6’2”) this year. Plays very physical. Is a solid man-on-man player, though he’s just adequate in man-off and zone. While he does run a super 40-yard dash, he does not appear to be that fast on the field.
The 49ers need coverage ability and reliability out of their nickel player, and Echols brings top grades to both categories. He is a more realistic pick than Craver, because the 49ers do not need to use a first rounder to get him.
Sheldon Brown, South Carolina 5-9, 190, 4.42
35 tackles, 2 ints, 8 passes broken up
Brown’s stock dropped this year because some scouts got the impression he was playing conservatively in anticipation of the draft. But then came Senior Bowl week, when he may have been the standout performer in the secondary. Brown is sound technically, reads the quarterback well, makes plays on the ball, and is agile in and out of breaks. Is aggressive and will make plays. Is great in man-on-man, but is also probably the best man-off/zone corner the 49ers will look at. Is undersized, but this has been overemphasized. Is very solidly built, has very long arms, defends the run well and is a sound tackler. Still, he is not as physical as other smaller corners like Mike Echols. He could also use some work on his backpeddle. If he played with the intensity of teammate Andre Goodman this past year, he’d be an easy second round pick.
Pro Football Weekly grades Brown as a fourth rounder right now, and I think he would be a steal at such a position. My gut tells me that he will go in the third.
Andre Lott, Tennessee 5-10, 185, 4.48
29 tackles, 0 ints, 3 passes broken up
There are a lot of things that worry me about Lott. He appears to lack great instincts, and as a result he didn’t make a lot of big plays. He is a very inconsistent performer and sometimes will look a little slow in recognizing the play – especially in space. Sometimes his technique can be shaky. But he is in the right position more often than not. He has decent size, knows how to hit and defend the run, and at times will play like a first round corner. A tough guy who is competitive and fights to make plays and tackles. He’s solidly built, and has a very strong upper body that he uses well in tight coverage. Also played four years for a primetime program. When the team asked him to switch to safety as a junior due to a lack of players there, he never complained, even though he played poorly at the position and it hurt his draft stock.
I like him because it looks like he may drop as far as the late third round. He is no star, but he’d be a good nickel corner for a third rounder if we trade down and get one. I prefer Craver and Echols, but Lott is a good guy if we have to settle. He has some issues, but I have a hunch that Lott is the kind of player that the 49ers’ coaches and players can get more out of.
Andre Goodman, South Carolina 5-10, 180, 4.49
28 tackles, 3 ints, 7 passes broken up
Looks like he’s rebounded from a career-threatening knee injury in 1998. Has regained his speed and is a sound man-to-man cover guy. Very smooth in his pass drops. Makes a few plays on the ball, has great footwork, and is above average in just about all areas of coverage. Tough guy and determined. A fighter. Fought through two years of rehab and elevated his play when teams picked on him early in the year. On the downside, he is not very physical and does not play man-off anywhere near as good as his teammate Sheldon Brown. Is not a playmaker and has a ceiling.
While not as exciting as Brown, it’s tough to bet against this guy. Is sound enough technically to step in and contribute as a nickel guy immediately – which is what the 49ers want from their fourth round pick.
Kevin Thomas, UNLV 5-10, 175, 4.55
45 tackles, 7 ints, 10 passes broken up
While Thomas has physical limitations at corner, he has great coverage skills and ball skills. Has a great burst out of his backpeddle and plays the ball in the air with the aggressiveness you like to see. He is also a likely second day pick, and corners with his kind of cover skills in the fourth-fifth round are a luxury. He has lots of experience (he’s been a starter since he was a freshman) and can cover a lot of ground. His 40-yard dash time is deceptive, since he looks a lot faster on the field. The concern with Thomas is his overall speed, which is rather pedestrian, and his frail build. He is somewhat inconsistent and sometimes gives too much cushion in coverage.
If the 49ers address other needs early in the draft, Thomas will become a target in the fourth round. If he can bulk up, he could be good.
Who We Shouldn’t Take
Lito Sheppard, Florida 5-9, 190, 4.45
23 tackles, 2 ints, 5 passes broken up
Sheppard has all the tools you want, and has a knack for elevating his game when he’s under the spotlight. Makes a lot of plays on the ball, has good ball skills. Will pick off his share of passes. A special teams returner and very good at it. He looks very smooth and comfortable in his pass drops, is not stiff at all. However, there are some concerns. He has been measured as short as 5-8¾. Like other players who play best under the spotlight, his effort and focus are uneven and he will get beat when he loses focus and gets sloppy. He’s also no choirboy, and has had his share of the off the field problems. Is not a very good practice player and thinks he is a lot better than he is.
Given his playmaking ability and his kick return ability, the 49ers will give this guy a look. But poor work ethic and questionable character are a bad combination. I see too many warning signs from Sheppard. I’ll pass.
Derek Ross, Ohio State 6-1, 195, 4.57
41 tackles, 7 ints, 6 passes broken up
Ross was moving up the boards more than any other corner until the combine. Ross has the size and the physical tools, but he has only one full year as a starter behind him. He’s being drafted more on upside and potential than production. There was talk of him running a 4.35, but he ended up running a 4.57 at the combine. He is a bit on the lanky side and is surprisingly finesse for a guy his size. Not a big hitter. He also has questionable hips and agility as a corner at the next level. But when a player of his size flashes big-play ability like he did at Ohio State, it will get the attention of some NFL teams. Coming out of Ohio State, which has a track record of producing quality corners, doesn’t hurt.
His poor 40-yard dash ended my interest in Ross. Could be a good one, but the 49ers want more instant impact, speed, and coverage ability from their nickel guy.
Mike Rumph, Miami (Fl) 6-1, 195, 4.45
30 tackles, 0 ints, 7 passes broken up
Rumph has the size NFL teams want from their corners, and he uses it well. Is physical, jams at the line well, and likes to hit. Has long arms and decent speed. There are just not enough plays from a guy with his talents. Uneven performer. Like Ross, he does not look fluid in his pass drops at all and will get turned around too easily. Does not possess a lot of quickness, and does not recover well. There has been a lot of talk about moving him to safety. Is a steady if unspectacular player.
Rumph is a no-brainer, to me. Teams like the Jets that like big corners who can jam bigger receivers in bump-and-run would see more in Rumph, but I shudder to think of what the Rams receivers would do to him. Is just too stiff and lacks the quickness we require. Is not the nickel guy we want.
Roosevelt Williams, Tuskegee 5-11, 200, 4.55
14 tackles, 5 ints, 12 passes broken up
Williams is a great athlete, but his lack of competition and agility are too much for me. He is surprisingly smooth in his drops and movements for a big guy – much more so than Ross or Rumph. But he has more straight-line speed than quickness. He has great leaping ability, but does not track the ball downfield very well. He also looked very overwhelmed during the Senior Bowl workouts and may need some time to adjust to the NFL.
Williams could be a very good player, but he’s going to need some time before he’s ready to play. Reminds me a lot of Rashard Anderson, another tall corner who the Panthers drafted out of a small school (Jackson State) two years ago and who has struggled to adjust to the NFL.
Rashad Bauman, Oregon 5-8¼, 180, 4.42
51 tackles, 2 ints, 14 passes broken up
Like Echols, Bauman is an undersized corner who likes to hit, can play man-on-man very well, and makes some plays on the ball. Unlike Echols, he has had trouble with the larger receivers. Stanford’s Teyo Johnson really slapped him around this year. He also has some character issues. He is a renowned trash talker, not a great practice player, and has been known to be hard to handle. He did run a great 40 at the combine, though.
I do not like this guy on day one. He may be worth a fourth or fifth round selection, but I’d just assume take Echols.
Rest of the Field
Joseph Jefferson, Western Kentucky 5-11, 195, 4.5
35 tackles, 2 ints, 8 passes broken up
Aggressive Division I-AA player with good ball skills. Has solid instincts, plays hard, and is a team leader. Has to make a tough jump to the NFL, and appears to have more potential at safety. Does not appear to possess the agility and suddenness a corner needs. Developmental type.
Kris Richard, USC 5-10, 185, 4.55
44 tackles, 2 ints, 5 passes broken up
Had only one good year in college (1999) and has struggled with injuries. Bounced back to have a good senior year but has not fully regained his form since his knee injury in September 2000.
Cedric Henry, Michigan State 5-9, 185, 4.52
Did Not Play in 2001
Appears to have good cover skills, toughness, and playmaking ability, but missed the 2001 season after being declared academically ineligible – which at Michigan State is really saying something. He also plays stupid, guessing on too many plays and getting burned in the process.
Omar Lowe, Washington 6-2, 203, 4.57
40 tackles, 1 int, 8 passes broken up
A big, physical player who appears to lack the quickness to be a corner and the ball skills to be a free safety.
Errol Hood, North Carolina 5-10, 195, 4.6
74 tackles, 0 ints, 5 passes broken up
A pretty good corner with good technique, athleticism, ball skills, and toughness. But he is not blessed with great speed and can get beaten off the line badly. Also has some character issues.