NCAA Football: SEC Football Championship-Georgia at Alabama
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Could the talented Alabama cornerback fall to No. 31 where the 49ers are picking?

The San Francisco 49ers are nearly one week away from the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft, where they’ve been linked to several different prospects and positions with their first selection.

Entering the draft, the 49ers don’t necessarily have a glaring need, but will look to add contributors, both for the present and the future, given their current roster complexion.

One area where the 49ers don’t have a locked-in starter, however, is at cornerback, where the team returns Charvarius Ward and Deommodore Lenoir, but are looking for a third cornerback to emerge after multiple players rotated in the spot last year.

San Francisco did sign Isaac Yiadom and, most recently, Rock Ya-Sin to compete on the outside with the incumbents, but they could also look to the draft to address the position, even as early as the first round.

Looking at the best cornerback fits for the 49ers, NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah linked Alabama’s Kool-Aid McKinstry to the team, pointing out his recent testing being better than initially expected.

“When you look at what he’s done just over the last few weeks, he gets a chance to show that he’s healthy coming off that foot injury and ran a really fast time,” Jeremiah said about McKinstry. “Faster than I expected, I know that, and that was one of the big question marks on him. The Texas game was not his best, but I thought he got better as the season went along and has played a lot of good football there at Alabama.

“The 49ers, a team that is going to play with a lead, you need two things: you need pass rushers and you need corners. Kool-Aid McKinistry’s been well-trained at Alabama, and I think he’s ready to play right away.”

Last month, when participating at Alabama’s Pro Day, McKinstry clocked in a 4.47 40-yard dash, which was impressive considering he had suffered a Jones fracture in a toe in his foot.

Where could the cornerback fit with the 49ers?

While being a smaller cornerback, standing at 5’11, 199 pounds at the NFL Combine in February, McKinstry saw much of his time on the outside at Alabama. Still, the corner shared that he’s comfortable playing in the nickel, pointing to his IQ and college preparation.

“I feel like I could play in the slot because just the training that I had at Bama,” McKinstry shared with me at the combine. “You have to know everything. You have to know how to be able to play everywhere.”

Now, McKinstry understands the challenges that come with playing the position, but feels he’s up for the challenge if that’s the role he’s asked to play at the next level.

“The biggest challenge, I would say, is probably just staying consistent in physicality, just being physical, play in, play out, whether it’s run or pass, just understanding your assignment, because, in the inside one play, you’re like a linebacker, which you got to set the edge and be physical and shoot the gaps. Next play, you may have to be covering like you’re a corner,” McKinstry said.

“I feel like I’m physical enough on the edge to set the edge. If there was a bubble, I feel like I can play the slot and guard whoever’s in the slot, whether that’s a fast or a quick guy. I feel like my knowledge and understanding leverage as a nickel. It’s very at a high level.”

The biggest concern about McKinstry has been his long speed and ability to keep with receivers deep, but the cornerback believes that the other parts of his skillset help mitigate that issue, while also showing off at his Pro Day with a good 40-time.

“I would say people always question my long speed because you really can’t find no plays where I’m beat or where I’m having to use long speed because I do a good job of keeping guys cut off and having good technique at the line of scrimmage where guys do not have the chance to run past me and I have to use long speed,” McKinstry said.

“So just my long speed may be a question because I do a good job with my technique at the line of scrimmage or even when I’m playing zone, like cover three or quarters, just staying on top of guys. Because you got to as a DB, you have to respect the deep part of the field. You cannot give up none deep, and every DB coach will agree with that in the world. So I think that’s the main reason my speed is question, just because I do a good job of cutting guys off and there’s no really no tape where you can see a guy beating me deep.”

With that said, McKinstry seems himself as more scheme-independent, as he’s able to use his instinctual capabilities to be sound as a press-corner, while also operating efficiently in other systems.

“I feel like I can fit into any scheme as a cornerback,” McKinstry told me. “I feel like if I went to a team that play more off zone or I went to a team that play, man, they’ll be getting the same player that would have the same production.”

To me, the Alabama cornerback is a special talent, and I can see the fit in San Francisco as a press corner. Yes, the long speed can be questioned, but McKinstry does a great job at the line of scrimmage, while also looking good when playing off and in press-bail as well.

The biggest question for me is his physicality, which McKinstry doesn’t use a lot in coverage to challenge receivers, but I still ultimately feel a system like San Francisco’s would work best for the corner, and I have him as a first-round talent in this class.

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