When fourth-year cornerback Tramaine Brock signed with the San Francisco 49ers as an undrafted free agent in 2010, the organization handed him a check for $500. A $500 check may not be perceived as a lot of money to some, yet to Brock it meant the world.
Not only did he now have money in his pocket, but he now had a place to call home. The undersized corner was never blessed with the opportunity to play at an SEC school like Alabama or Auburn. In fact, coming out of high school, Brock was viewed as a 2-star recruit who lacked size and speed.
However, the 197-pound ball-hawking safety wasn’t about to let some website (Scout.com) tell him what his value was as a player. Brock was bound and determined to show the nation he deserved to be playing football at the highest level possible.
Sure, the start to his collegiate career wasn't ideal at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, but the small school setting gave him the ability to up his grades and build a profound highlight tape. The highlight tape would help him transfer to a big-name university at the conclusion of his freshman and sophomore seasons.
Lo and behold, Brock took full advantage of his situation and helped lead Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College to a National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) championship during his sophomore season.
Amidst the team’s championship run, Brock proved week in and week out that he was the Bulldogs' most valuable player. He finished the year with 72 tackles, seven interceptions and two forced fumbles. His impressive campaign helped him get noticed by Minnesota, Auburn, Florida State, Iowa, Iowa State, Oregon State and Southern Miss.
With seemingly limitless options to choose from, Brock chose to transfer to the University of Minnesota and play free safety for the Golden Gophers. Yes, he could have went to a winning program, but he only had two years of eligibility left, so it was important he played right away.
Head coach Tim Brewster gave Brock the chance to start right away, and the community college transfer didn’t disappoint. He finished his junior season third on the team in tackles with 71, while intercepting one pass, knocking two others away and forcing three fumbles.
Brewster and the rest of Minnesota’s staff had high hopes for Brock’s senior year, but his final year was nothing more than a hopeful thought. The Mississippi native was forced to abandon the university after one season because of academic ineligibility.
This, in turn, meant Brock would be forced to enroll in his third school in four years. He went back to his roots and registered for classes at Belhaven University. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Belhaven, it’s a private institution that is a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).
Like he did at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and the University of Minnesota, Brock competed and absolutely balled out. In 2009, he registered a team high six interceptions, 51 total tackles, 2.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. Not to mention, he returned two of his six interceptions for touchdowns.
Despite the multitude of stops, it was evident to the 49ers' front office staff and head coach Mike Singletary that Brock was indeed a playmaker. Even though he wasn’t worthy of a draft selection, there was hope that the undrafted free agent would potentially develop and eventually contribute down the road.
Progress was slow in the beginning, considering he had only logged 183 snaps (playoffs included) in his first three seasons, but Brock’s fortune turned around this season when veteran cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha injured his knee against the Indianapolis Colts.
Asomugha’s knee injury not only kept him sidelined for five games, but the injury and Brock’s outstanding play led to his eventual release.
In Asomugha’s absence, Brock notched 14 total tackles, three interceptions, six passes defended and one touchdown. The 25-year-old defensive back sent a message to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and the rest of the team's coaching staff. He wanted to make sure everyone knew he was the best corner the Niners had on their roster.
According to the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Brock’s play has been an absolute godsend. On 294 snaps in eight games, he has performed well enough to be treated as the 11th-best cover corner in the NFL.
His plus-5.8 grade from PFF puts him ahead of players like Patrick Peterson, Joe Haden and Aqib Talib. On 38 targets, opposing quarterbacks have had trouble garnering completions on a consistent basis. They have completed a mere 21 passes for 330 yards.
Nonetheless, Brock has held contending signal-callers to a 71.1 quarterback rating when they throw into his coverage area.
In spite of the small sample size, it’s safe to say owner Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke made an incredibly smart move by signing the impending free agent to a four-year, $16 million contract extension that runs through 2017.
Moreover, the four-year deal includes $7 million in guaranteed funds and conveys that Brock will naturally be a starter in 2014. Not bad for a guy who was seen as a 2-star recruit in high school and went undrafted prior to signing with San Francisco.
Fortunately for 49ers fans, the good news doesn’t have to stop at the announcement of Brock’s contract extension. Why? Because the young, highly talented playmaker will show fans and media members alike that his best is yet to come.
Aside from the fact that Brock doesn’t even have a full 16-game slate under his belt, the mid-20s cornerback is still coming into his own as a player based on the fact he still needs to improve against the run, while being more consistent in coverage on a per-snap basis.
As he amasses more in-game experience and a better knowledge base for Fangio’s defense, Brock will continue to grow as a player and as a leader. Furthermore, there’s a good chance that he becomes one of the more celebrated corners in the league.
If he keeps producing and shutting quarterbacks down, it won’t be long until his name is mentioned in the same sentence as guys like Richard Sherman, Alterraun Verner and Darrelle Revis. While that time may not come this year, there’s no question it will come sooner rather than later.
Here’s what Baalke had to say about Brock’s extension, via Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle: “Tramaine is a great example of what hard work and dedication can lead to.”
Baalke’s right: Tramaine is a great example of what hard work and dedication can lead to. For the entirety of his life, Brock has had to earn everything he has ever accomplished through hard work and dedication. Nothing has ever been handed to him along the way.
From the time he stepped through San Francisco’s front door until now, he has taken advantage of every opportunity thrown his way. Undoubtedly, there wasn't a defensive back on the 49ers’ roster who was more deserving of an extension than Brock.
Additionally, don’t expect Brock to slough off now that he got paid. That’s not the type of player he is. He won’t stop working and dedicating himself to honing his craft until he has a Super Bowl ring on every finger. That’s the type of mentality and work ethic he has.
A tip of the hat to head coach Jim Harbaugh and Baalke for saving money. If they hadn’t locked Brock up right now he would have surely cost the organization more money in the long run, thanks in large part to the fact that as the season has pressed on his play has continued to get better and better.
Brock’s path to the NFL may have been unconventional, yet there is nothing unconventional about his skill set and the way he plays the game.
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