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Nebraska's Amukamara could be great pick for 49ers at No. 7 overall


Nebraska's Prince Amukamara would be the best cornerback in the NFL draft.

In most years.

This year? He's the guy ranked behind The Guy — LSU's Patrick Peterson.

Forget about the cornerback position, Peterson might be the draft's best overall prospect (Amukamara is considered the second-best cornerback).

Peterson won the Thorpe Award, an honor given to the nation's top defensive back (Amukamara was one of the three finalists).

Peterson ran the 40-yard dash in 4.34 seconds at the NFL Combine (Amukamara came in at 4.43).

At the scouting combine, Amukamara's press conference was held — you guessed it — right after Peterson's.

And, fittingly, this was the first press-conference question lobbed his way: Are you better than Patrick Peterson? Then, a few moments later, a reporter addressed Amukamara as "Patrick."

Sigh.

The 6-foot, 206-pound Amukamara was a first-All American and the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year this past season. Quarterbacks completed 18 of 52 passes thrown in his direction. He is, potentially, an elite NFL cornerback. But he's also not you-know-who.

"In most years, Prince Amukamara is absolutely the top cornerback in the draft," said CBS Sports draft analyst Rob Rang. "It's just that you're comparing him to the player that I believe is the best player in the draft."

That player, Peterson, could still be available when the 49ers, with the No. 7 overall pick, make their first-round pick Thursday night. A flood of mock drafts have Peterson falling to the Niners, a nod to the fact that cornerbacks, no matter how skilled, are not as highly valued as other positions in the NFL.

But if Peterson is off the board, Amukamara could be a nice consolation prize for a defense that ranked 24th in the NFL against the pass and was repeatedly torched by the league's top quarterbacks last year.

Consider that San Francisco faced six quarterbacks who finished the season ranked among the league's top 12 in passer rating. The 49ers were 0-6 in those games as those quarterbacks threw 14 touchdowns, three interceptions and posted an astronomical 110.6 rating.

Ask 49ers general manager Trent Baalke about cornerbacks and he quickly begins talking about confidence — a must-have trait for players at a position that gets exposed. During an interview on KNBR earlier this offseason, Baalke said the "whole thing to playing that position is confidence." And he went on to say the Niners cornerbacks lost some swagger this past season.

"I think if you talked to our guys, they lost a little bit of (confidence)," Baalke said. "For whatever reason, they lost some of that — that play-making, that mindset to make plays rather than to just not get beat."

Amukamara may not possess the 219-pound Peterson's size, speed or explosion, but he might be his equal in the confidence department.

Before he ran the 40-yard dash at the combine, there were concerns about Amukamara's speed.

When questioned about his alleged lack of wheels, the soft-spoken Amukamara dismissed the label. Quietly and firmly.

"I think some people don't know what they're talking about and haven't seen me on film," Amukamara said. "I guess I'll show them on Tuesday."

Indeed, Amukamara posted his 4.43 time in the 40 two days later, a performance that cemented his status as a high-end pick. And, possibly, a nice consolation prize.