In his last draft for the 49ers, general manager Trent Baalke used three 2016 selections on cornerbacks.
Baalke used a third-round pick on Will Redmond, a fourth-rounder on Rashard Robinson and a seventh-rounder on Prince Charles Iworah.
A year later, it appears Robinson is the jewel of that trio.
Robinson, who played at LSU, was described as a “high-risk, high-reward player” by ESPN.com’s Paul Gutierrez at the time of his selection because of his up-and-down college career. At 6-foot-2, Robinson had the length and skill set to compete in the talented SEC. Yet in his final season for LSU, he didn’t have an interception. He also had a suspension, reportedly for breaking team rules.
Yet as a rookie with the 49ers, Robinson advanced rapidly. He saw action in 14 games and started six, had an interception, eight pass breakups and was in on 28 tackles.
Now Robinson, with the 49ers this week in organized team activities (OTAs), appears headed toward a starting spot at right cornerback. New defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has been impressed.
“He’s a dog. I like him,” Saleh told reporters Wednesday. “He’s made of the right stuff. His attitude, his mindset, is unique for a corner. He does not want to get beat. Every rep is so important to him. He doesn’t care who he’s going against. It’s a tremendous mindset when you get a guy like Rashard who is so focused on what he’s capable of and about him and how he’s going to win. … The man in front of him has no bearing on what he’s about to do.”
Because Jimmie Ward has been shifted from corner to safety and starter Tramaine Brock has been released, Robinson told the media Wednesday that he already feels like “the older guy in the room” of cornerbacks.
Secondary coach Jeff Hafley – who was on Chip Kelly’s staff last season and was retained by Kyle Shanahan – says Robinson has worked to add muscle, moving from 171 pounds when he was drafted to 190 pounds.
“He’s worked a lot on his fundamentals,” Hafley told Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee. “I think he’s gotten stronger.”
Keith Reaser, Iworah and Redmond are expected to compete with Robinson for the starting role. At the other cornerback spot, Dontae Johnson is the leader, with third-round choice Ahkello Witherspoon his main competition.