Defensive Back Prospects and the 49ers

THe less heralded Alabama corner is the better one

The 49ers are in a bit of a tricky spot with in DBs this draft. They could stand pat and still have a pretty good secondary on paper, but this is the strongest group of safety prospects we've seen in years, and it'd be foolish of them to ignore the best players available. At the same time, it's up in the air what they'll do with Nate Clements, so they may be looking to upgrade at cornerback too.

Top Defensive Back Prospects

S Eric Berry (JR) • 5-11 • 195 • Tennessee

Berry (below) has the playmaking ability and cover skills to be a dynamic force. He can control a game in the secondary, at the line of scrimmage and in the backfield, and offensive coordinators have to game plan for his every move. He's a solid tackler in space and is an effective blitzer. He's occasionally indecisive and gets caught out of position on play-action passes. Projection: First Round

CB Joe Haden (JR) • 5-11 • 190 • Florida

Haden is a playmaking cover corner who plays with a degree of physicality. He has good size and the ability to lock down the opposition. He's quick backpedaling off the line and fluidly transitions with receivers. He's not strong at the point of attack and doesn't consistently jam receivers at the line. Projection: First Round

S Taylor Mays • 6-3 • 231 • USC

Mays is a tenacious, game-changing defender who can be used in multiple ways. He's a hard-hitting presence in the secondary and immediately recognizes the action. He takes good angles in coverage and works well with his teammates. He's doesn't generate impact numbers and lacks the ball skills you want out of a playmaker. Projection: First Round

S Earl Thomas (SO) • 5-10 • 190 • Texas

Thomas is experienced and versatile, and can play cornerback or safety. He has great speed plus the ball and cover skills to be a big time playmaker. He displays fluid hips transitioning in coverage and has a burst of closing speed. He's undersized and doesn't get off blocks well and will reach to make tackles instead of shedding and wrapping up. Projection: First Round

CB Kyle Wilson • 5-10 • 190 • Boise State

Wilson plays with flash and finesse. He has an athletic frame and the agility and vertical leap to contend with any size receiver. He has a smooth backpedal, tremendous awareness and a closing burst. He doesn't have prototypical size and gets muscled up by bigger, stronger receivers. Projection: First Round

CB Devin McCourty • 5-11 • 186 • Rutgers

McCourty is an outstanding physical athlete who possesses the size/speed combination that scouts desire. He's an intelligent performer who has great instincts and recognition skills. He's strong at the line of scrimmage, effectively jams receivers at the line He but tends to struggle against taller receivers. Projection: First Round

S Nate Allen • 6-1 • 205 • South Florida

Allen has great size, speed and is a leader. He reads the quarterback well, understands his assignments and is able to locate the ball quickly. He takes chances and will get caught out of position. Projection: Second Round

CB Patrick Robinson 5-11 • 190 • Florida St

Robinson has the potential to be a shutdown corner. He has great agility, transitions well with receivers and closes fast. He's not overly physical and has to improve his tackling technique. Projection: Second Round

CB Dominique Franks (JR) • 5-11 • 183 • Oklahoma

Franks is a solid, durable cover corner who could develop into an elite all-around defender. He has great size and quickness. He doesn't disengage well from blocks. Projection: Second Round

DEFENSIVE BACKS

49ers Needs at Position: 8

Current Players: Dashon Goldson (S), Shawntae Spencer (CB), Nate Clements (CB), Michael Lewis (S), Tarell Brown (CB), Karl Paymah (CB), Reggie Smith (S), Curtis Taylor (S), Keith Smith (CB)

Positional Overview: Playing his first full season as a starter, Goldson kept improving, playing at a Pro-Bowl level by the end of the year. Spencer had a fine season of his own after recovering from a torn ACL the year before. Clements struggled somewhat and then broke his shoulder – his future with the team may depend on the draft. Lewis had a solid "bounce-back" year, but he suffered three concussions as well, which is very scary. Brown started late in the season and was rewarded with an extension. Paymah was signed from Minnesota to be a reserve corner and ace special teams gunner. Smith and Taylor are a couple of young backup safeties high on potential and short on experience.

When to Address: First and Second Rounds.

Who's There: The top corner on the board is Haden, and he'd be hard to pass up at 13, which he won't be. Scouts are high on Boise State's Wilson, but he's a bit shorter than the Niners like. Kareem Jackson got less camera time than his Crimson Tide teammate Javier Arenas, but he's the superior, more consistent corner and doesn't have any weaknesses. Arenas is a top-notch return man who made plays in Alabama's biggest games, but can't match up against everyone. At safety Tennessee's Berry is the best prospect to come along in since the late Sean Taylor. USC's Mays is a physical freak, but doesn't have much ball skills. The Longhorns' Thomas on the other hand is a marvelous centerfielder but a bit slight to be a hard hitter.

SFI's Picks: Earl Thomas, Safety, Texas, 5'10" 190 lbs., Kareem Jackson, Cornerback, Alabama, 5'11" 185 lbs. Comment: Thomas would apprentice for a year behind Michael Lewis while playing in nickel packages and trying to fill out his frame. He's just too skilled to pass up. Jackson meanwhile would challenge for a starting job opposite Spencer right away and solidify the secondary for years to come.

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