NFL teams weren’t just watching the Seahawks’ dynamic new offense with quarterback Russell Wilson in 2012.
They also were watching the way Seattle’s big, physical cornerbacks often dominated games and helped the Seahawks allow a league-low 15.3 points per game.
Cornerbacks Richard Sherman (6-foot-3, 195 pounds) and Brandon Browner (6-foot-4, 221 pounds) often disrupted opponents’ passing games with their size and strength.
“What it brings is, if you’re a bump-and-run team, what the tall guys do is they create a bigger obstacle for the wide receivers to get around,” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll told the Denver Post recently. “That manipulation at the line of scrimmage is what you want as a defensive player, to slow the opportunity for a receiver to get downfield.”
One team obviously paying close attention was the 49ers, Seattle’s rival in the NFC West.
This offseason, the Niners have been pursuing cornerback help to upgrade a secondary that was victimized in the postseason. Though the 49ers advanced to the Super Bowl, the Falcons and Ravens put up big numbers through the air against them. Part of the problem was the team’s lack of a consistent pass rush, but cornerbacks, too, were vulnerable, particularly nickel corner Chris Culliver.
To that end, the Niners have been flirting with free-agent corners in recent weeks, in particular former Raiders and Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha
Asomugha, 31, fits the big-bodied mold at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds and, in the right system, could still be a force. If he were to sign with San Francisco, he’d give the team an upgrade over Culliver and could compete with Carlos Rogers or Tarell Brown for a starting spot.
However, Asomugha, according to a report by CBS Sports Monday, is still deciding between the Saints and 49ers, both of whom apparently have shown strong interest in him. If he signs with the Saints, he’d reunite with his former coach in Oakland, Rob Ryan.
If Asomugha should decide to go elsewhere – or the 49ers deem him too expensive – San Francisco may be looking to add a bigger cornerback through the draft.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee has reported that the Niners’ interest in Asomugha and 6-foot-3, 218-pounder Sean Smith (since signed by Kansas City) are indications San Francisco would like to get bigger in the defensive backfield.
If that’s the case, the Niners may have their eyes on North Carolina State corner David Amerson, whom they reportedly met with during the school’s recent Pro Day.
Amerson, who is 6-foot-3 and 194 pounds, has been labeled by NFLdraftscout.com as one of the 10 “most intriguing players” at the NFL Combine. Amerson as a sophomore in 2011 was a first-team All-America pick after an amazing 13 interceptions.
As a junior in 2012, however, Amerson’s stock fell with some spotty performances, including one against Tennessee in which Vols receivers had big days.
Barrows also lists Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes (6-foot-1, 217 pounds), Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks (6-2, 185), William and Mary’s B.W. Webb (5-10, 185) and Houston’s D.J. Hayden (6-0, 192) as corners the 49ers may be studying. Webb and Hayden don’t fit the big-corner mold, but are considered among the best in this draft class. Hayden is one of the fastest players in the draft, having run a 4.33 40-yard dash at his Pro Day.
Niners GM Trent Baalke recently said that even if the 49ers bring in Asomugha, he won’t be guaranteed a starting job. The same would be true if the team invests a high pick in a cornerback.
“That message is resonated loud and clear from our organization any time we make an acquisition,” Baalke said at the recent NFL owners meetings. “It’s still about competition. It’s still about earning your role within that locker room, within our team.”