The San Francisco 49ers finished their 2019 NFL Draft early Saturday afternoon, picking Vanderbilt tackle Justin Skule 183rd overall and Virginia cornerback Tim Harris 198th overall.
Both are players with exciting measureables, with Skule checking in at an athletic 6-foot-7, 315 pounds and Harris coming in at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds with a 40 somewhere between a 4.36 and a 4.44, which he ran at his pro day. Harris had a coverage grade of 87.1 — good for seventh among all outside cornerbacks in the draft class.
While San Francisco’s top need was to draft a dominant edge rusher — and they did, with Nick Bosa — many pundits, and many fans, figured the next-biggest need would be in the secondary. The 49ers had only two interceptions all season, and finished last in the NFL in both takeaways and turnover margin (-25). Harris may not quell those cries for more help in the defensive backfield, but he does bring another body into camp to compete.
“You look at our secondary now and everything, and it’s not the easiest thing in the world to go draft a guy who can just come in and beat out [CB] Richard Sherman, [CB] Jason Verrett, [CB] Ahkello [Witherspoon], [DB] Tarvarius Moore,”said general manager John Lynch during his post-draft press conference on Saturday. “Those aren’t easy things. And you look at other positions and stuff. So, that goes to each round. It’s not the easiest to go find a safety who can beat out [DB] Jimmie Ward or [S Jaquiski] Tartt or the two guys that we drafted in the last two years with [S] Marcell [Harris], [DB Adrian] Colbert and [DB Antone] Exum [Jr.], who stepped in and did a good job for us.”
What San Francisco needs is depth. Last season, Colbert (9 games), Witherspoon (7 games), Tartt (8 games), Harris (8 games) and Sherman (2 games) were all injured at times last season, as were cornerback Emmanuel Moseley (7 games), cornerback DJ Reed (1 game), cornerback Antone Exum (1 game) and safety Jimmie Ward (7 games). They added oft-injured corner Jason Verrett as a free agent this offseason to at least partially shore up depth, and Harris, too, is an intriguing option. He allowed a passer rating against of only 52.0 and a catch rate of 48.7 percent.
Harris (6-foot-2, 197 pounds) played for six seasons at Virginia, which includes two medical redshirt seasons. He posted 36 total tackles and two interceptions as a senior in 2018. Over the course of his entire career with the Cavaliers, he racked up 109 tackles and four picks.
“Tim Harris, very talented football player, and we felt very good about him and felt like having a, you just can’t have enough good corners,” Lynch said. “So, providing competition, athleticism, and he is a profile fit. We aren’t married to that profile, but he certainly has that profile at 6-2, 200, and a kid who can run at 4.43, I believe.”
He saw a spike of interest days before the start of the Draft, with Cavaliers head coach Bronco Mendenhall saying on Monday that he’d fielded multiple calls on the 6-foot-2, 197-pounder who racked up 109 tackles and four interceptions in his college career. Harris missed two seasons due to injury, but in the final six weeks of his senior season, making 20 tackles and tallying two interceptions, including one he returned for 62 yards.
NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein said that Harris has rare size, speed and explosiveness. Harris’ injury history contributed to his fall in the draft. He ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash at his pro day. Zierlein anticipated that Harris would be a priority undrafted free agent, but clearly the 49ers wanted to take a flier on the corner’s traits with their final pick in this year’s draft.
Fellow PFF analyst Brett Whitefield weighed in on the Harris and called him one of his favorite players in the draft class.
“Unfortunately, due to injuries, Harris is the best-kept secret in this year’s draft class,” said Whitefield. “However, he profiles as a guy with prototype size and elite athleticism, who can become a shut-down corner in the NFL. Turn on the tape, and you will see Harris be physical at the line of scrimmage in press, easily mirror routes in man, or even play off-man in zone. He has the requisite length to shut down throwing windows deep outside the numbers, and he also has the explosiveness to come up and make plays on throws underneath.”
Skule has a chance to be a swing tackle for San Francisco, competing with Shon Coleman and Daniel Brunskil for the spot in camp after starting all 25 games for Vanderbilt over the last two seasons and playing both right and left tackle.
“Maybe not the total prototypical tackle that will go early in the draft like you see a lot,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said. “So, you look at the end, who has a chance to make it in this league and the game is not too big for him? He has the ability to make it, and to me he’s got as good of a mindset on what’s inside of him as anybody out there.
Skule needs a bit of work, technique-wise, and struggles with speed off the edge, but has strong hands and a mechanically-sound blocker.
”I felt like he won at a high rate,” Lynch said. “It wasn’t always beautiful, pretty, but just kind of a scrapper who at the end of the play was on his guy and won his leverage at a very high rate. And, so when you find those guys, you look at the level of competition. Well, his level of competition was as good as it gets in college football. Sometimes it’s not always how pretty it looks, it’s are you getting the job done?”