It’s Senior Bowl week, marking the official start to NFL draft season. The 49ers are facing a crucial offseason as they’ll look to fill some important holes on the roster. We’ve already started to take the dive into draft prospects.

Let’s not waste time. To your questions!

I’d rank them this way in terms of talent and the way they’d fit the 49ers’ offense: Fitzpatrick, Ward and then Jackson.

Fitzpatrick is clearly ahead of both and will likely be the best defensive back in this class. Differentiating between Ward and Jackson is a matter of taste.

Jackson might be a better fit from a pure scheme perspective, while Ward is the more athletic and versatile of the two. He’s going to test better than Jackson (he might be the fastest corner in the draft), although Jackson has the advantage in size. He stands 6-foot-1. Ward will be noticeably better in man-to-man coverages, while Jackson excels in zone.

That’s not to say Ward wouldn’t be good in zone. He has above average length despite being listed at 5-foot-10 (arm length is more important than height). His closing speed could be crucial for playing in San Francisco’s press Cover 3 scheme and make up for his lack of size.

How corners react to receivers at the top of their route and close on the ball is the most important factor when it comes to evaluating the position. Ward has the advantage there, even if Jackson had eight interceptions to the FBS last season. Ward is more physical at the line of scrimmage and in run support. Ward has more projectable footwork, physicality and pure instincts, in my opinion.

Fitzpatrick would still be the best option. But it seems unlikely he falls to pick No. 9 or 10. I know there are questions about his viability at cornerback given he played mostly in the slot and safety during his Alabama career.

But his ability to read the quarterback’s eyes in zone make him an ideal fit for the scheme. San Francisco wants corners to have safety-like traits because playing Cover 3 is similar to a safety dropping deep.

Fitzpatrick adjusting to boundary cornerback shouldn’t be a problem for the 49ers, while it might for another team that relies more heavily on man-to-man techniques. Fitzpatrick wasn’t in phase all that often in college (mirroring receivers in man-to-man). Remember, there were similar questions about Jalen Ramsey coming out and he’s the best corner in the NFL right now.

Fitzpatrick is good enough to play all five positions in the secondary at a high level. Rather than focusing on where he plays as a rookie, I think the 49ers should be willing to add him and figure out his position later. Keep in mind, Jimmie Ward is entering a contract year and Jaquiski Tartt hasn’t signed a long-term contract yet. 

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