Asked last week about finding a stand-out cornerback in the draft, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said it's difficult but certainly possible. He pointed to New England's first-round pick, Devin McCourty, as proof. The Patriots took McCourty 27th overall out of Rutgers.
"They're out there," Baalke said. "You've got to find them. The whole thing to playing that position is confidence. Obviously they have to have the physical ability to do it, but they have to be put in position to make plays and they have to be coached to make plays. And they've got to have confidence about them."
McCourty's rookie year was excellent. He finished with 82 tackles, seven interceptions, a sack and started all 16 games. He also was named to the Pro Bowl. McCourty was a tough, solid player at Rutgers and he solidified that reputation with a very solid showing at last year's Senior Bowl. That aura of confidence that Baalke mentioned certainly was evident in McCourty at this time last year. So who are the senior cornerbacks to watch this year? I asked NFL Draft Scout's Rob Rang:
1. Ras-I Dowling, Virginia. Dowling was a pre-season favorite to be one of the top cornerbacks in the country, but injuries this year have caused his stock to slip, Rang said. When healthy he's a Top 50 selection, meaning that he could be a solid pick in the second round. He's big - 6-2, 205 - and physical and he's played in a 3-4 system.
Said Rang: "He's going to be one of the players with a lot riding on the (Senior Bowl) week."
Others to watch:
Jalil Brown, Colorado. Said Rang: "Brown is a high-effort player who was overshadowed by Jimmy Smith. He could boost his stock next week." 6-1, 205.
Curtis Marsh, Utah State . Said Rang: "He's a former running back who has helped his stock as much as any cornerback in the country this year. The Senior Bowl will be huge for him. Good size, speed for press coverage." 6-1, 193
Shareece Wright, USC. Athletic and a good tackler. But at 5-11, 185 pounds, he's a little undersized.
Note: Colorado's Smith, 6-2, 205, is a senior who is expected to be a high draft pick. However, he opted not to participate in the Senior Bowl. Other presumed first-round picks like LSU's Patrick Peterson, Nebraska's Prince Amukamara, Miami's Brandon Harris and Texas' Aaron Williams are underclassmen.
The 49ers have nominated Takeo Spikes for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award. Spikes has has taken part in an array of community service events over the year and has been active with his foundation, 51 Ways Foundation, which supports families of children who suffer from cancer.
-- Matt Barrows