The 49ers place great importance on three positions – the edge rusher, the offensive line and the quarterback. Look at what they have invested in these positions.
They traded three 1st-round picks and one 3rd-round pick to advance to Trey Lance’s draft and made Jimmy Garoppolo the highest-paid QB in the NFL upon signing.
They drafted Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead in the first round, then traded a 2nd round pick and gave Dee Ford a 5-year $ 85 million contract ahead of the 2019 season.
This offseason, they made Trent Williams the highest-paid left tackle in NFL history, signed Alex Mack to a 3-year contract, and selected RG Aaron Banks with the No. 48 pick. In 2018, they drafted RT Mike McGlinchey with the No.9 pick and exercised his 5th year option during the offseason.
These are the three most important job groups in the NFL and the next most important job became the cornerback.
PFF has created a statistic called WAR (Wins Above Replacement) which is used to measure a given player against the average at position. PFF generated the Top 32 Total WAR at each position during the 2020 NFL season – they found quarterbacks to represent the highest Total WAR, with the next highest position being the cornerback.
What these numbers mean is that the difference between a starting corner and a save is worse than any other position outside of QB. The NFL also further valued the position as a whole, with Corners now ranking fourth in APY franchise tag value.
Most of the best corners in the NFL are Top 40 picks. Of the NFL’s Top 10 Paid CBs (APYs), only one was drafted outside the Top 40 and he was selected No.62 (James Bradberry).
Unfortunately, while the rest of the NFL has caught up with this, the 49ers don’t appreciate or invest in corners as much as their peers. This year, 11 of the top 50 picks were cornerbacks. The 49ers haven’t picked a corner in that range since the 2000 NFL Draft when they took Ahmed Plummer with the No.24 pick.
Since 2017, when the 49ers’ current regime took over, they’ve picked two corners on day two of the draft at No.66 (Witherspoon, 2017) and No.102 (Ambry Thomas, 2021). They also brought in Richard Sherman and K’Waun Williams via free agency.
Take a look at the last four playoff teams of last season – the Packers’ two starting corners were top 33 picks (Kevin King and Jaire Alexander), the Tampa two were 2nd round picks, the Bills have Tre White who was a 1st round corner, while the Chiefs had a 4th round corner as CB1.
The 49ers have invested in the position. They took two corners in rounds 3 and 5 and, while Lenoir is training, they had to do more in the offseason.
The only cornerbacks signed with the 49ers after the 2021 season are Emmanuel Moseley, Lenoir and Thomas. While Moseley and Thomas are starters who will take that next spot around the corner, if the 49ers had taken Asante Samuel Jr when they had the chance, they wouldn’t have to worry about the future.
Rather than getting ahead of the problem at the corner the 49ers have been more responsive and because of that they have to go scrap to find available corners as the guys keep going down.
They could also have educated themselves and tried to take a closer look at CJ Henderson who was traded to Carolina for a third, while the Panthers were given a fifth. With the 49ers so desperate and their lack of long-term security at the post, a third-round pick would surely be worthy of this talented corner kick.
So while the 49ers value three of the four most important positions, they need to catch up with the rest of the league when it comes to cornerback.
If they don’t they might fall behind and fall out of favor, they just need to get better (and more) corners because coverage is as important as it ever was.