Super Bowl LVIII - San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs
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The third cornerback who will “start” probably isn’t on the roster yet.

We’ve gone over safeties and quarterbacks. Now, it’s time to go back to the defensive side of the ball. Today, we’ll talk about the state of the San Francisco 49ers cornerback position.

Isaiah Oliver was recently released, which was hardly a surprise after Oliver lost his starting spot at nickel corner. The passing defense soared in his absence.

The Niners had one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL this past season in Charvarius Ward. Despite being the most targeted cornerback in the NFL, Ward only allowed 40 yards per game, led the league in pass breakups, and surrendered the 12th-lowest passer rating against in the league among cornerbacks who were targeted at least 50 times.

Ward and Deommodore Lenoir allowed a negative EPA per target. Lenoir was 9th in passer rating against and performed exceptionally well when he was outside. You could argue both players were better against the run, which is saying something. The 49ers have a pair of cornerbacks who proved themselves in 2023.

General manager John Lynch said on Tuesday that cornerbacks are “a position you have to address every year. You just can’t have enough of ‘em. And I think we’ll continue to do that.”

Cornerbacks under contract for 2024:

Charvarius Ward – $18.4M cap number

Deommodore Lenoir – $3.18M

Ambry Thomas – $1.42M

Darrell Luter Jr. – $993,378

Kemon Hall was signed to a reserve/future contract.

Lynch said, “he’s a guy we like,” regarding Luter, before saying the team must add to the position. Lenoir and Thomas are entering the final season of their contracts, while Womack has two years remaining. Cornerback qualifies as a need.

Going into the 2024 regular season, depending on your fifth-round pick from the season prior who had three total targets as a rookie, would be quite the leap of faith and projection. That’s also a lot of pressure to put on a player.

The 49ers may be out of range to snag one of the “top” cornerbacks in the first round. A player like Quinyon Mitchell out of Toledo falling to them in Round 1 feels too good to be true. Somehow, if TJ Tampa out of Iowa State is available in Round 2, the front office should sprint to the podium. He reminds me of Ward. Tampa is an animal against the run, which is a trait the 49ers covet.

But the 49ers haven’t invested early in a cornerback, and there’s no evidence of that changing this draft. Lenoir and Ward were both Day 3 and undrafted free agents. Speaking of free agency, Ward was a gem, and going back to the same well after for an established player could make the most sense with the way the Niners structure contracts.

I’d leave Lenoir inside, although he was statistically better on the outside. Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles said, “We are in the process of getting a deal done with Jaylon Johnson. Process is going well. We’re excited to get a deal done” on Tuesday.

If the Niners could pry Johnson away from the Bears before a deal gets done, the new defensive coordinator would be set up, unlike any other coordinator in the NFL.

Kendall Fuller, Adooree Jackson, and Stephon Gilmore are all unrestricted free agents. But they are more of a “name” than anything. Lesser-known players such as Sean Murphy-Bunting, Michael Davis, and Jeff Okdukah may provide more bang for the 49ers’ buck.

It would not be surprising to see the 49ers use a draft pick on a cornerback as well as signing one in free agency, knowing that they’ll need to add two more next offseason without extending Lenoir or Thomas.

The third “starter” likely isn’t on the roster, barring Luter taking a massive leap this offseason.

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