The 49ers will not have Carlos Rogers, last year’s primary nickel corner for the 2014 season. They have kicked the tires on a few players such as Walter Thurmond III as possible free agent options to fill the void. In the end, they settled on Chris Cook but that still leaves them without a true corner to cover slot receivers. The 49ers will really be in the market for a nickel corner by way of the draft. Expect to see Trent Baalke and the gang at numerous pro days to get a first hand look at multiple prospects.
There has been a lot of talk about Jason Verrett from TCU. I have also identified Kyle Fuller, Lamarcus Joyner and Jaylen Watkins as options for the 49ers. Let’s take a look at some of the likely targets and how we rank them.
1. Kyle Fuller – Virginia Tech 6-0 190 pounds 32 7/8 Arms 9 3/8 Hands
4.49 40 YD Dash 12 Reps 38.5 Vertical 1o.6 Broad Jump 6.90 3 Cone 4.19 20 YD Shuttle
Fuller is a tough player. He is from Virginia Tech which means that he is well schooled and has the importance of special teams drilled into him. I have him as my top rated nickel corner because of his physical play. He also is a guy that can be used on the blitz off the edge. Fuller has played numerous positions. He was primarily the boundary corner but did get a lot of work inside as well. It is very clear that Fuller is not afraid of contact as shown by how he played some weak side linebacker against Georgia Tech. I spoke to him at the Combine and he said that his best quality was his physicality which he used to redirect wide receivers at the line of scrimmage and disrupt their timing. Athleticism is in his bloodlines. He has two brothers, Coery and Vincent in the NFL already. His younger brother Kendall was a freshman standout last year at Virginia Tech.
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2. Jason Verrett – TCU 5-9 189 pounds 30 5/8 Arms 9 1/4 Hands
4.38 40 YD Dash 39.0 Vertical 10.6 Broad Jump 6.69 3 Cone 4.00 20 YD Shuttle
Some have talked about Verrett as the best nickel corner and have said that he is the best option for the 49ers. Verrett has the best footwork out of all defensive backs in this draft. He is an explosive player. His athleticism stands out on tape. His tough, physical style of play despite his smaller size reminds many of Antoine Winfield. The best way to describe him is fiesty. His compact build and quick feet make him an ideal option for covering smaller slot receivers. Verrett is another player that can blitz from the nickel spot. He recently had shoulder surgery. His size could be an issue going against bigger receivers in the slot especially during red zone situations but his vertical and anticipation will help makeup for that.
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3. Lamarcus Joyner – Florida State 5-8 184 pounds 31 1/2 Arms 9 1/2 Hands
4.55 40 YD Dash 14 Reps 37.5 vertical 10.3 Broad Jump 7.26 3 Cone 4.40 20 YD Shuttle
As you can see from the numbers, Joyner is not the same kind of fast twitch athlete as Verrett or Fuller. Joyner is one of those players that will not pass the eye ball test but he will standout when you watch him play. His size doesn’t stop him from hitting like a ton of bricks. Florida State was full of play makers on the defensive side of the ball yet, Joyner was the ring leader. He is a hard worker and has an edge when he plays. The versatility card comes into play when Joyner is mentioned. He played safety, corner, outside linebacker and returned kicks in college. Joyner told me that the nickel spot is perfect for him because he likes being close to the line of scrimmage and be in the middle of all of the action. He also likes to blitz from the edge, which he times very well and he won’t hesitate to mix it up against the running game. A lot of people have made the comparison to Tyrann Mathieu from the Arizona Cardinals.
WATCH LAMARCUS JOYNER VS CLEMSON Courtesy of draftbreakdown.com
4. Jaylen Watkins – Florida 5-11 194 Pounds 30 5/8 Arms 9 5/8 Hands
4.41 40 YD Dash 22 Reps
Watkins is one of the more versatile prospects in this draft. He is the older brother of Sammy Watkins from Clemson. He can play nickel, outisde at corner and as a safety. He told me that one of the best things about being at Florda was how he had to compete for a starting spot week to week which produced a competitive edge. Watkins will definitely fit in well at the nickel position. He will rely on his ability to check wide receivers at the line of scrimmage. The strength that Watkins has will allow him to hold his own in run defense as well. He told me that he feels like he is the best corner because of his versatility. Watkins has above average catching ability. He was a standout wide receiver in high school.
WATCH JAYLEN WATKINS VS KENTUCKY Courtesy of draftbreakdown.com