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Sport How does Richard Sherman addition affect 49ers’ plans for NFL draft?

07:11  11 march  2018
07:11  11 march  2018 Source:   ninerswire.com

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The 49ers are reportedly signing long-time Seattle Seahawk starter Richard Sherman to a three-year contract worth $39 million. The move signals a new era in the rivalry between the two teams. Seattle has seen as massive change in roster construction recently, with the team looking like a shell of the squad that made life difficult for the 49ers and former coach Jim Harbaugh.

The 49ers' rebuild began last year and may have a leg up on the Seahawks. The Seahawks released Sherman Friday afternoon and the free-agent corner was dining with head coach Kyle Shanahan Friday night before the team spent Saturday giving Sherman a physical and discussing contract details. The signing, which brings a big-name player onto a team lacking experienced leadership, shouldn't change the 49ers' draft plans.

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The 49ers still have a need for cornerback depth, in addition to a long-term starter. The contract details suggest that Sherman, who turns 30 this month, a transitional piece as the team finds a long-term player opposite of Ahkello Witherspoon for the future.

Sherman's coming off an Achilles injury that ended his 2017 season in November. While there's no denying his mental toughness, cornerbacks that turn 30 before the season begins, and who are coming off of major injury, aren't exactly penciled in as immediate starters. Sherman knows this as well, whether he chose to bet on himself or not.

It's safe to cross cornerback off the list for the 49ers at ninth overall. Ohio State's Denzel Ward and Iowa's Josh Jackson were the only two corners that might be seen as reasonable top-10 picks. And even those would appear to be rich, given the other talent that will likely be available when the 49ers make their first selection.

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The 49ers' scheme asks corners to play plenty of press coverage at the line of scrimmage before dropping into various zones and reading pattern combinations. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh coached in Seattle and brought a similar scheme to the 49ers after a stop in Jacksonville. Needless to say, Sherman should have no problem understanding the concepts and expectations of cornerbacks on the defense.

So, with Sherman set to have a shot at a starting spot sometime in 2018, depending on when the team believes he's fully healed, who are the realistic targets in the draft that make sense moving forward?

The 49ers aren't scheduled to make their second pick until 59th-overall after trading their original second-round selection for Jimmy Garoppolo. Expect the team to begin considering corners there and to pull the trigger on a potential starter at some point between the second and fourth rounds.

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The immediate expectation is that Auburn's Carlton Davis becomes the de-facto number-one corner on the team's draft board. With Ward and Jackson likely out of the picture, the 49ers can look at the second-tier of high-quality corners. Davis (6-1, 203) has been compared to Sherman and plays with a similar physicality that overwhelms receivers throughout their route stem. He's some the team may have to move up for, but the similarities are undeniable.

UCF cornerback Mike Hughes may not last until the 59th pick. If he does, it's a no-brainer. Hughes (5-11, 191) doesn't have the size that seems to be a threshold for the 49ers scheme, but he plays with tremendous toughness in run support and is one of the best press corners in the entire draft.

Beyond Hughes, players like Stanford's Quenton Meeks (6-1, 209) and LSU's Kevin Toliver (6-2, 192) are third-round players that fit the size expectations. Meeks has the physicality that the team desires and comes from a trusted program at Stanford with multiple connections to the team.

Lynch and Shanahan wasted little time trading away former LSU corner Rashard Robinson, but Toliver doesn't come with the concerns that Robinson did. He recorded only two interceptions in his three years at LSU and looks like a player that needs at least a year to grow, both physically and technically, before becoming a starter. Nonetheless, Toliver's size and raw tools make him an intriguing mid-round selection.

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Lastly, a sleeper cornerback that will give Lynch and his team tremendous flexibility in their draft strategy is Virginia Tech's Brandon Facyson. Facyson (6-2, 197) has the height and length that looks ideal for the 49ers' scheme. He pairs that natural size with a physical playing style that excels by getting into receivers frame and disrupting them at the catch point.

Facyson doesn't have the downfield speed of elite corners but he's smart, instinctual and physical from the moment the ball is snapped, making him a valuable Day 3 selection in the draft. He's a poor-man's Sherman and could grow tremendously from watching the 49ers newest addition operate.

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