The San Francisco 49ers' cornerback position is still missing a shutdown cornerback. Either of the two top cornerback prospects in Joshua Jackson or Denzel Ward will do over last season's "lukewarm options" outside of rookie cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, but who's the better fit?
As the 2018 NFL Draft steadily approaches, the 49ers need to address their cornerback position as they haven't had a shutdown cornerback since "Primetime" Deion Sanders wore the uniform. It's said that numbers never lie, but do they tell the whole story?
In 2017, the 49ers ranked 22nd in pass defense, allowing 3,764 passing yards, 27 passing touchdowns, surrendering a 63.2% completion rate to opposing quarterbacks, and the defense only recorded 10 interceptions (Witherspoon and Eric Reid tied with two each) on the season.
Important to note: The 49ers are reportedly the front-runners to sign Los Angeles Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson. But is Johnson worth five years and 68 million?
The last 49er to register or surpass the six-interception season of Deion in 1994 was Walt Harris, who had eight in 2006. To say the 49ers need to address their cornerback position (pending free agent Donte Johnson struggled mightily and isn't expect to return) via the draft or free agency is an understatement.
According to Pro Football Focus, Jackson, who ran an unofficial 40-time of 4.49, is the No. 1 ranked cornerback at his position, with Ward (unofficial 40-time of 4.32) coming in second.
Here are the top cornerbacks the 49ers should consider selecting to again solidify their secondary with the ninth-overall pick assuming General Manager John Lynch, who is open to options, and the 49ers don't trade out of the pick.
Joshua Jackson, CB Iowa, 6'1", 192 lbs., 21, Junior
How he fits
Jackson is a certified thief in the day and the night! If the ball is anywhere in his area of real estate, he'll steal it even if he has to do it with one hand -- as seen in his video highlights that showcase a lot of his abilities.
In 2017, Jackson allowed a passer rating of just 36.5, which was the fifth-best mark in the class, while recording eight interceptions, 18 passes breakups (PBU) and 48 tackles.
Jackson has the ideal size/physicality, ball skills, and athleticism to play and excel at the next level and may even be the first cornerback off the board. Jackson will rip/pull the ball away from an offensive player to create turnovers or stop you from making a play.
Translation: He's relentless. And he's a trusted agent in the tackling department. In the video above, you'll see his playmaking ability with multiple pick-sixes in one game and a three-game interception day.
Bottom Line on Jackson
With the lack of a complete cornerback on the 49ers roster, Jackson would add the presence of a potential shutdown talent at cornerback to the team. Jackson can use some coaching up/fine tuning in his off-man and press-man technique with his hand placement, which is natural, seeing how he's only started playing cornerback since 2015.
Hands down, Jackson is the type of player (PFF grade of 96.2 is the all-time best in college) that can be added to build around or even groom to be a future shutdown cornerback in the National Football League.
Side note: Concerned about his 40-time? Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman ran a 4.56 at his combine debut. How's that worked out?
Jackson can play zone/man combo scheme based on his overall attributes, skillset, and his untapped potential. And under the tutelage of 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, Jackson can grow into Saleh's cover three defense seamlessly and be a force to be reckoned with.
Denzel Ward, CB Ohio State, 5'10", 191lbs., 21, Junior
How he fits
Ward is the best pure cover cornerback in the draft and the faster of the two aforementioned. When he's faced the best receivers, they usually have a hard time getting open and separating due to his good footwork, aggressive hand placement (redirecting the receiver off his route tree), and being able to move his hips fluidly and effortlessly which works to his competitive advantage.
Don't underestimate Ward's size at 5' 10' or take it for granted (see Lynch's former Tampa Bay Buccaneers' teammate Ronde Barber who's 5' 10' and Hall-of-Fame bound).
Ward recorded 37 tackles, 15 PBU's, and two interceptions (allowed a passer rating of 52.9) in 2017. He has long arms, great ball/cover skills, and has the vertical leaping ability to contest jump ball attempts by taller receivers who have been mentally tricked into believing their size is an advantage over Ward's -- as seen in his video highlights that showcase a lot of his abilities previously mentioned.
Bottom Line on Ward
Ward possess (PFF grade of 91.4) great fundamentals, speed, and the ball tracking ability to be extremely competitive if playing on Sundays at home at Levi's Stadium. Ward uses his hands very well and is a violent hitter/tackler that plays with a natural chip on his shoulder.
However, he has missed some tackles when trying to make ankle diving tackles and not fully wrapping up his opponents, which can be cleaned up with coaching.
Ward's overly aggressiveness style can, at times, work against him, especially at the NFL level where referees are more prone to call pass interference in today's game.
Ward can play man coverage with the best of them, but with his elite speed and athletic ability, he easily can fit into any scheme and wouldn't be a handicap at all within Saleh's cover three scheme.
2018 NFL Draft: CB Joshua Jackson vs. CB Denzel Ward; Who's the better fit?
There's a saying: "Study long, study wrong." If you're Lynch, head coach Kyle Shanahan, or defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, you have some decisions to make when it's time -- five minutes, to be exact -- to submit their choice on who fits their defense, team, and culture.
Recent Niners Live article alerts: 2018 Free Agency: Trumaine Johnson Vs Kyle Fuller; Who's the better fit?, and What's behind draft door No. 9? Pass-Rusher? Cornerback? Or Guard?, from a different perspective, of course.
This article was written also to ask the 49er Faithful: If cornerback was the pick when the 49ers are on the clock, who would you choose? To be continued....
Sequoia Sims: Founder of Niners Live, Content Creator, player breakdown specialist, and Senior Author. The home of the faithful fan and analyst from an objective/analytical lens, and different perspective, of course.