Will 49ers Rolle the dice on top CB?

The 49ers have big interest in University of Miami cornerback Antrel Rolle, and he'll be one of the select college prospects to visit team headquarters later this month. He's a player San Francisco wants, but is he a talent worthy of the No. 1 overall pick in the draft? The Niners are unlikely to use the overall No. 1 to get him, and with the way the draft is shaping up, Rolle won't be around a whole lot longer in the first round.

As the draft nears - it is now just 19 days away - teams at the top of the first round are lining up to talk to Rolle, who is considered one of the better cornerback prospects to come out so far this decade.

The Niners are standing in that line. Rolle will visit the 49ers facility on April 11, along with Michigan receiver Braylon Edwards.

If the team can trade down in the first round, Rolle might become the focus of San Francisco's pursuits depending on where the team would ultimately pick. With both of their starting cornerbacks still dealing with lingering injury issues at the team's first spring minicamp this past weekend, the 49ers are looking to add another top corner to their secondary mix.

Rolle rates as the best of this draft, and he also would have been a sure first-rounder had he come out after his junior season. But, despite the high regard for his ability, just a few short weeks ago Rolle had to defend himself after his stellar career at Miami. Scouts had a perception that he lacked top-end speed.

He quelled those doubts when he ran a 4.49 forty.

"I think I go in proving that week in and week out that I do have top-end speed," said Rolle. "I really don't know what it is that they've been looking for, but I can't recall any time when anybody has beat me deep."

Ironically, Rolle is seen as a dual threat. Besides being at the top of a very deep cornerback class, Rolle supplements that with punt return skills, a 15.6-yard career punt return average, a trait he displayed earlier in his career.

The talk about his speed, therefore, came as a shock to the confident Rolle.

"I know I ran people down plenty of times, I know I've covered the fastest receivers, I covered Roscoe Parrish and Andre Johnson every day, and those are high 4.2 to 4.3 guys," he said. "Pretty much any guy you put in my face I'll cover. I'll blanket those receivers. I don't see what they're talking about, but I like it because it's a challenge for me. It's a chance to show them what I got. I think I proved that week in and week out when I shut receivers down, but if that isn't enough I can always give them more."

Rolle could have left college a year ago for the NFL's big money, but he decided to return for his senior campaign to focus on becoming an all-around player. He may have been ready back then but wanted to focus on the little things, attention to detail, before he ventured into the NFL.

He didn't work out at the NFL Combine, saving his workout for his Pro Day.

He actually wanted to work out there, but he was in the midst of a workout program with his strength and conditioning coach. He had been working out non-stop and on the advice of his coach, he needed the extra few days of rest before giving it a go.

He acknowledged that he may have missed out on a few scouts and coaches but is quick to retort, "Film speaks for itself. I'm pretty sure they've seen me play, and I'm pretty sure they have film on me that they can pull up and watch – that speaks for itself. They know what type of player I am and that I have great character; I'm not a troubled kid. They know I come from a very family background, and they know most importantly that I love to play the game, and that I am great at playing the game."

Rolle says he would fit best in a press coverage scheme, similar to what they ran at Miami but is quick to say he would fit in any scheme.

It was in 2003 when Rolle was assigned to cover the top receiver in the college game, Larry Fitzgerald. Playing so close to him that he could feel the heat of his breath, Rolle was given the task of jamming him at the line and throwing off his rhythm. Showing the strength rarely seen in a cornerback, Rolle solidified his status among the elite.

Looking ahead to the NFL, Rolle has some early preferences. Playing school in Miami, in the national spotlight, has made it easier for him to scout ahead.

"I love the way the Dolphins use their secondary, I love the way Tampa uses their secondary, I love the way the Ravens use their secondary, but most of all I love the way New England uses their secondary because their secondary seems to be not the most talented group, but the most disciplined group. I like how they can fill their spots and they come out successful."

Despite being a lock for the top half of the first round, almost every team in the league has given him a courtesy interview.

"The way I see it, you can always take a good corner," says Rolle. "On defense, that is the hardest position to play, being that you have to be with the guy running backwards and he's running forwards. I think that speaks for itself. You can never go wrong with taking a corner."

There is no mistaking the trend, however, as many of the teams in the top 10 have stepped up their interest level in Rolle.

That interest has always been there for the Niners, but the team probably wouldn't take him anywhere in the top 10 - if it were to trade down for another spot in that portion of the draft - because it probably still would be able to find one of the offensive players its covets somewhere among thos picks.

But if the Niners get into the 10-15 range, Rolle could become their main focus.

Rolle lists the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans, Arizona Cardinals, Detroit Lions and Kansas City Chiefs as those with the most interest.

One thing is certain, Rolle is eager to test his wares in the NFL against the best receivers in the league. When asked about facing former 49ers star Terrell Owens or Randy Moss or Hines Ward, Rolle responds in the only way he knows how, confidently.

"I am excited about testing myself," said Rolle. "Those guys might be more excited about testing the rookie, but I don't think they'll be that excited once they face me."


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