Editor's note: NBC Sports Bay Area will preview the NFL Draft with a look at the 49ers’ top needs, profiles of prospects that might fit their needs, along with some hidden gems. In this installment, we examine why the 49ers have a need at cornerback.
Cornerback Richard Sherman, who earned a Pro Bowl honor last season, enters the final year of a three-year contract he signed shortly after the Seattle Seahawks released him in March of 2018.
On the other side, there is some degree of uncertainty. Ahkello Witherspoon played well to open last season, missed games due to injuries, then struggled upon his return to action.
Emmanuel Moseley, in his second season after entering the NFL as an undrafted player, eventually took over as the starter. He was steady and reliable until giving up the critical third-and-15 pass to the Kansas City Chiefs in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIV. Moseley had a difficult assignment, for sure, but it ultimately was his responsibility to defend the deep one-third of the field in which Tyreek Hill caught the 44-yard pass from Patrick Mahomes.
The 49ers this week re-signed veteran cornerbacks Jason Verrett and Dontae Johnson. They figure to be mere insurance policies and would not impact the 49ers’ plan for the NFL draft in any meaningful way.
Cornerback is a need 49ers general manager John Lynch is likely to address in the draft. Wide receiver, defensive line and offensive line are other spots the 49ers could hit early. All of those spots are in the mix for the 49ers to consider with their top pick – either at No. 13 overall or a few spots later, if they opt to trade back.
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The 49ers have not selected a cornerback within the first two rounds of a draft since choosing Shawntae Spencer with the 58th overall pick in 2004. This year, it makes more sense than ever to bring in a young, talented cornerback.
Aside from the obvious need to strengthen the position and increase depth, the 49ers must contend with a group of wide receivers within the division that got a whole lot better this offseason when the Arizona Cardinals acquired DeAndre Hopkins to pair with Larry Fitzgerald. The 49ers struggled twice last season against the Cardinals, and they are not going away.
But there’s another every-day reason the 49ers should bring in a cornerback.
Sherman is one of the great players of this generation, as shown with his recent selection to the NFL’s All-Decade Team. He also is an incredibly willing resource for young players. Because Sherman is under contract for just one more season, bringing in a draft pick has the added benefit of guaranteeing a rookie will get a full year of guidance from one of the best communicators in the NFL.
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The most likely options for the 49ers at No. 13 overall are Jeff Okudah (Ohio State) and C.J. Henderson (Florida). Both players are approximately 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, and have the necessary skillsets to excel in the 49ers’ defensive scheme.
A.J. Terrell (Clemson), Trevon Diggs (Alabama) or Kristian Fulton (LSU) also fit the 49ers’ profile for players who could prompt the organization to dip into this pool of cornerbacks with one of their top draft selections.