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Why Kiper Jr. mocked Kentucky CB Phillips to 49ers at pick No. 63

Why Kiper Jr. mocked Kentucky CB Phillips to 49ers at pick No. 63 originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

ESPN senior analyst Mel Kiper believes the 49ers will use the No. 63 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft on defense after they bolster the offensive line in the first round.

Kiper shared Thursday his belief that Kentucky cornerback Andru Phillips will be available to San Francisco late in the second round and could fill the team’s nickel-back need.

“That’s exactly what he is, what he was and what he can be. Outside, slot, nickel,” Kiper said via video conference. “Dru Phillips didn’t have any interceptions at Kentucky, but he’s a physical corner. He got better and better. He tested really well, very athletic with a 42-inch vertical, ran well, played well. You always like testing the work with the tape, and it did with Dru Philips.”

The 49ers likely will look for defensive backfield additions, even after signing ex-Baltimore Ravens cornerback Rock Ya-Sin to a one-year free-agent contract Thursday, as the former second-round pick has very little experience on the inside. Ya-Sin lined up just 35 times in the slot out of his 1,015 snaps last season.

Deommodore Lenoir and Charvarius Ward are the 49ers’ presumptive starting cornerbacks, and while Lenoir can play in the slot, San Francisco’s defense was vulnerable on the outside last season when he did.

Phillips is ranked 12th in PFF.com’s 2024 defensive backs draft class with a lot of game experience, recording 47 total tackles (14 solo) and six pass breakups in 2023. He was on the field for 709 defensive plays, 223 in the slot, and allowed 39 receptions on 58 targets for 438 yards and four touchdowns. Phillips didn’t allow any TDs in his previous two seasons.

“That’s why some have [Phillips] in the fourth round,” Kiper said. “I think that’s way too late. I have him late second to the 49ers, and it kind of fills that need for the 49ers.

“Getting that offensive tackle at the end of the first solidifies that area of concern there,” Kiper said. “Then they could always still solidify down the line if they want and add another receiver, but they get those two needs defined early, end those needs early, get it out of the way, get the corner and get the offensive lineman.”

Kiper believes Michigan’s Mike Sainristil also could seamlessly fill the 49ers’ need, but he won’t be on the board at No. 63, while Phillips will.

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