The San Francisco 49ers lost cornerbacks Terrell Brown and Carlos Rogers this past offseason. Starting cornerback Chris Culliver is coming off a whole season without playing due to a torn ACL, and is facing legal matters that might end in a suspension handed down from the NFL. On top of that, he is entering the final season of his contract with no extension.
Their other starter this season, Tramaine Brock, doesn’t even have a full season of starting experience under his belt. So to say that the cornerback position will still be a need going into the 2015 NFL draft isn’t much of a stretch.
The top senior cornerback in college this season is Ifo Ekpre-Olomu out of Oregon. He’s been a top corner for the past few seasons, but has passed on the draft because he wanted to guarantee he was one of the top picks in the draft. Assuming he stays near the top this season, Ekpre-Olomu is someone the 49ers will covet and could possibly make some moves to trade up for.
Ekpre-Olomu is mostly experienced in man coverage, but has some zone experience. This fits the 49ers well because they like to run a mix of schemes, but a lot more man coverage than anything else. He is also extremely fast and can run with most wide receivers on go routes. His hips are smooth and fluid, and you don’t see him make many mechanical mistakes at all.
Possibly his best trait as a cornerback is his instincts. He has a knack for getting to the ball, even on run plays. On run plays, you see his nose in the play almost all the time and when the ball is thrown to his man, he’s right there knocking it down or making a play to intercept it. Mostly every other skill can be taught to one degree or another, but instincts are something that are just natural. Ekpre-Olomu has those instincts.
The biggest drawback to his game is that he’s not a very physical corner. This could be due to his small stature, standing at only 5-foot-10 and weighing 195 pounds. He certainly needs to work on his press coverage, and I would really like to see him line up right on the line of scrimmage more often this season. Most of the time, he lines up about 5-7 yards off the ball, sometimes more.
If the 49ers decide to target Ekpre-Olomu in the 2015 draft, they won’t be disappointed. He is NFL-ready and would immediately improve that unit. There’s a good chance Culliver isn’t re-signed after this season, leaving the 49ers even thinner at cornerback. Even if they decide to bring him back, his 2012 season wasn’t very stellar, earning only a +1.2 grade from Pro Football Focus.
Coming off an ACL injury, it would be hard to imagine his 2014 season being any better. Ekpre-Olomu has the potential to come in right away and take Culliver’s spot if he’s still there.
Granted, they have some promising rookies, even one who is essentially redshirting this season due to injury, this season, but none of them can be counted on at this point in their careers. Also, you can never have too much depth at the cornerback position. Just ask the Seattle Seahawks.