Insider analysis: Nate Clements

The 49ers paid an exorbitant price this spring to acquire a talented, shiny new part for their defense that can have a positive, ripple-down effect on the entire unit as a shutdown-type cornerback. Nate Clements came to the 49ers from Buffalo during the offseason, so can he get the job done? Bills expert Chris Brown spends some time at SFI to tell us everything there is to know about Clements.

Chris Brown, Seeing Nate Clements leave the Bills for literally greener pastures was viewed as a foregone conclusion by most. After Buffalo included language (last year) in Clements' one-year franchise tender that stated they would not use the franchise tag on him again, he signed, and it became clear the team's top corner would be seeking a lucrative contract on the open market the following year as a free agent.

Buffalo couldn't compete financially with a contract the size that San Francisco offered despite the fact that Clements was the team's best talent in the defensive backfield.

Clements' solid build allows him to play a physical press style while his natural athleticism enables him to turn and run with most receivers in the league. He is solid in run support and a good open-field tackler. He tends to be less effective when dropping into zones and working with teammates in coverage.

He's a confident competitor that relishes the one-on-one battles. Clements was usually assigned to shadow the opponent's top receiver each week, and proved very successful in that role. Last season, two of his better efforts were holding Marvin Harrison to two receptions for 21 yards and Chris Chambers without a catch to break Chambers' 61-game reception streak.

He's capable of turning in the big play either by interception or forced fumble with his multi-dimensional game, but he isn't one to rack up a ton of interceptions, with his single-season best being six (2002, 2004).

Clements has solid return skills and had success as Buffalo's primary punt returner in 2004. Returning interceptions for touchdowns is another area of strength, as he has taken 11 of his 23 career picks back for scores.

Clements has always worked hard in practice, and over the past two seasons he has matured into a professional that takes his craft seriously. He's personable in the locker room and was a respected player in Buffalo. He's not considered an elite corner because he has averaged fewer than four interceptions a season, but his overall skill set puts him pretty close to elite status. However, there are occasional lapses in his game and a lack of team success can sometimes affect his performance.

Craig Massei's take: To be sure, there is both pressure and loads of expectations being placed upon Clements to produce in a big way this season and become an impact force immediately with the 49ers as he enters the prime of his career. That's a lot to ask – even from an $80 million man – but Clements appeared during the spring to fit comfortably into his new role as the highly-visible main man of San Francisco's secondary. He made a strong impression with his personable demeanor and desire to work hard from the get-go instead of nonchalantly easing into his role with his new team, as some of the 49ers' other newcomers did. Even though it was only in helmets and shorts during the team's spring practices, Clements showed an aggressive, physical style and an obvious confidence he can compete with any player that lines up across him. He is thick with good size for a corner and opens his hips well to smoothly turn and run with receivers. One thing that ought to help Clements is that the 49ers aren't expecting him to be Superman in their secondary; they are only asking him to be an active, flexible and durable cornerback who may or not be asked to shadow the opponent's top receiver on any given play. That said, Clements is now a featured player on the San Francisco defense, and a lot is riding on his individual performance this season. He certainly looked the part with his new team this spring, and while the 49ers overpaid to get him, there appears to be little doubt Clements has the skill and potential to make a difference in San Francisco's still-developing defense.

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