ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. released his first mock draft of the year on Tuesday. Do you know when the last time the San Francisco 49ers took a cornerback in the first round? The second round? You have to go back to 2002 when the Niners selected Mike Rumph— and Rumph didn’t last long at cornerback, so we shouldn’t even count that.
You have to go back to 2000 when the team drafted Ahmed Plummer in the first round. Two decades without drafting a cornerback in the first two rounds seems hard to believe. When you consider where the league has been trending since the mid-2000s as Peyton Manning began to take the league by storm with the Colts makes that figure even more difficult to believe.
Kiper changes that in his mock draft:
Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
The 49ers will likely undergo big changes on defense this offseason, with defensive coordinator Robert Saleh gone and cornerbacks Richard Sherman, Ahkello Witherspoon and Jason Verrett all unrestricted free agents. That’s why it makes sense to target a corner early. Surtain, my top-ranked corner, could be a starter on Day 1. He had 27 pass breakups and four interceptions over three seasons at Bama. At 6-foot-2, Surtain has the size and speed to play on an island and lock down wideouts. Depending on whether San Francisco can bring back free-agent left tackle Trent Williams, offensive line could also be a position to target.
Let’s say the 49ers don’t trade for Matthew Stafford or Deshaun Watson, and Aaron Rodgers restructures his contract with the Packers.
If you’re wondering how realistic Kiper’s mock is, two wide receivers went before two quarterbacks, and three wide receivers went before three quarterbacks.
Lawrence, Wilson, Fields, and Lance all went in the top-8 picks. There were no trades in this mock, so San Francisco couldn’t jump a QB-needy team for a quarterback. Assuming quarterbacks are taken high in this draft, that will push other talented prospects down the board.
I still have questions about Surtain’s top-end speed, but that’ll be answered when he runs. Aside from that, there are no issues taking Surtain at No. 12. He’s a good player, and Surtain’s instincts allow him to play faster than whatever his timed speed will be. I see Giants CB James Bradberry when I watch Surtain. That may not excite fans, but you’re getting a rock-solid cornerback who can shadow No. 1 wide receivers.