Previewing 49ers' cornerback battle for 2024 with new additions

Previewing 49ers' cornerback battle for 2024 with new additions originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

The 49ers brought reinforcements to the defensive backs room through the NFL draft and free agency, but who will join Charvarius Ward and Deommodore Lenoir on the field as a starter is yet to be determined.

The competition during training camp will be intense while defensive coordinator Nick Sorensen and defensive backs coach Daniel Bullocks determine who will win the job.

Even with two determined starters, the only certainty is that Ward will be playing outside. Lenoir proved he can play successfully at both nickel and outside last season, but how the remainder of the group performs at training camp could determine where he might line up.

Here are the remaining cornerbacks on the 49ers roster:


Darrell Luter

Ambry Thomas

Samuel Womack

Kemon Hall

2024 draft:

Renardo Green

Free agent acquisitions:

Rock Ya-Sin

Isaac Yiadom

Chase Lucas

The 49ers saw enough in Green to select him with their second-round pick at No. 64 overall in the 2024 NFL Draft. The Florida State product has five years of college experience, earning a career-high 86.4 coverage and 83.2 overall defense grades from in his final season.

Green lined up predominantly on the outside in his final two years in the SEC, with 1,281 plays on the outside and 210 from the slot, but 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan believes the rookie could have the versatility it takes to be the answer to their nickel needs.

“We liked that a lot,” Shanahan said during the draft. “We’ve seen him play outside and we know he can play outside, but he’s also wired the right way to play inside. Just doesn’t have a lot of tape of it, but that’s something we believe he can do both. I’m glad he feels the same and we’ll give him an opportunity to do both.”

Both Luter and Womack spent a lot of time away from the field in 2023 due to injury and will have their chance to earn spots in the lineup during training camp. Womack, who was a fifth-round pick in 2022 (No. 172), suffered an MCL injury and missed nine games last season but has been a solid contributor on special teams.

Luter was a fifth-round pick (No. 158) in 2023 but started his rookie season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list due to a bone bruise in his knee, which kept him off the field until Week 11. The young cornerback is respected by the club’s coaching staff, and like Womack, has been carving out a role on special teams.

Thomas was the team's third-round pick (No. 102) in 2021 and was on the field for 481 defensive snaps (49 percent) and 114 (30 percent) on special teams last season. The Michigan product's time in the Bay Area could be coming to an end unless he can put together a stand-out fourth season with the team after allowing 46 receptions on 65 attempts for 460 yards and three touchdowns while registering one interception and six pass breakups in 2023.

Kemon Hall is the remaining cornerback returning to the 49ers after being signed to the practice squad last November. The 2019 undrafted free agent spent time with four different organizations only appearing on the field in 18 games with the Los Angeles Chargers, predominantly on special teams.

The 49ers signed three free-agent cornerbacks to one-year contracts with the team, including two of which have substantial NFL experience — Ya-Sin and Yiadom.

Ya-Sin, who was a second-round pick by the Indianapolis Colts in 2019 (No. 34), had a strong start to his NFL career before being traded to the Las Vegas Raiders in 2022 and spending 2023 with the Baltimore Ravens. The veteran cornerback does not have a lot of experience playing in the slot, with only 112 of his nearly 3,000 snaps starting on the inside.

The Temple Owl famously battled Deebo Samuel at the Reese’s Senior Bowl in 2019 before the South Carolina receiver was drafted by the 49ers. Ya-Sin showed that he has the ability to cover a physical receiver in one-on-one situations and could prove he still has what it takes to be a starter in the league.

Yiadom might be the most intriguing of the three free agents with 2023 being the best season of his six-year career. The Denver Broncos third-round pick (No. 99) of the 2018 draft spent time with the New York Giants, Green Bay Packers and Houston Texans before landing with the New Orleans Saints in 2022.

Like Ya-Sin, the Boston College product doesn’t have a lot of experience at the nickel position but racked up a career-high 11 pass breakups and one interception last season earning him an 80.4 coverage and 81.1 overall defensive grade from PFF. If the 28-year-old can continue his upward momentum, he could see a lot of playing time with the 49ers in 2024.

Lucas has limited NFL experience after being drafted by the Detroit Lions in the seventh round (No. 237) of the 2022 draft. The Chandler, Ariz., native spent much of his rookie season on injured reserve but has been on the field for 18 games with the Detroit Lions -- almost exclusively on special teams. The Arizona State product signed a one-year deal with the 49ers after the Lions did not offer an exclusive rights tender to the defensive back.

With several new faces in the group, the 49ers will continue to try to find the best combination of defensive backs in 2023 with an understanding that Lenoir could move to nickel when needed. Their intention, however, seems to be keeping the Oregon product on the outside and finding another option at nickel through competition during training camp. It should be a fun battle to watch.

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