The conversation among 49ers fans and NFL analysts will continue until May 8, when the Niners make their first-round pick in the draft:
Wide receiver or cornerback?
Of course, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke may take a completely different route. Because Baalke – just like every other GM – doesn’t tip his hand, speculation about his plans is just that. Nobody knows.
But the common thinking is that wide receiver and cornerback are the positions of greatest need on a team that doesn’t have many glaring weaknesses.
Wide receivers are flashy and their contributions easy for all to see. The best cornerbacks, on the other hand, are often doing their best jobs when they go unnoticed during a game. Unless they give up a big play, bat down a pass or make an interception, what they do in pass coverage is barely in the spotlight.
So it was interesting this week to see a poll on ESPN.com about which position the 49ers should address with their top pick in the draft. As of Wednesday morning, 76 percent of nearly 4,000 voters said the team should use its top pick on a cornerback.
If voting had been held in February, perhaps the vote would have gone the other way. At that time, veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin was still unsigned and the 49ers still could have retained cornerbacks Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown. Plus, reports were that cornerback Chris Culliver – lost for the 2013 season – was healthy again and ready to compete for a starting job.
Since that time, however, the situation has changed. Boldin has re-signed and Rogers and Brown both signed with the Raiders. Culliver, meanwhile, was arrested last week and charged with two felonies. He’s accused of hit-and-run driving and possessing brass knuckles. His status with the team is now uncertain.
So, with a deep crop of wide receivers in this draft, cornerback now appears to be the 49ers’ greatest area of need.
Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN certainly has changed his thinking. He now has the Niners selecting Virginia Tech corner Kyle Fuller with their first overall pick, after his earlier mock drafts had the team taking LSU wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. or Jarvis Landry.
“The 49ers aren’t thin in too many spots, but cornerback certainly qualifies, and they could use someone coming in ready to contribute,” wrote Kiper. “Fuller has been good during the evaluation process and now seems like a reasonable option this high. With Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea on the back end (at safety), CB will be a priority in the draft.”
NFL.com analysts Daniel Jeremiah and Bryan Fischer, meanwhile, predict the 49ers will take cornerback Jason Verrett of TCU.
With so many picks in his pocket, Baalke has options. But there’s no question now that cornerback is the 49ers’ greatest area of need. Whether Baalke will address that need with his No. 1 pick is what nobody knows. Usually, Baalke gives fans a draft-day surprise.