Chris Culliver watched with little more than casual interest as Jim Harbaugh rebuilt Stanford’s football program.
Culliver is much more interested in Harbaugh’s rebuilding plans today after the San Francisco 49ers, who hired Harbaugh this offseason to breathe life into a once-dominant franchise, drafted Culliver with the 80th overall pick of the NFL Draft on Friday night.
“I know he’s a good coach for turning that Stanford program around,” said Culliver, who was the 16th pick of the third round and the first former South Carolina player taken in this year’s draft. “I feel like he’s going to do the same thing in San Francisco.”
Culliver flew to San Francisco early this month for a private workout with the 49ers.
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“It was a long way, but I am glad I made my way out there,” he said. “Coach Harbaugh had told me I’d probably be coming back out there when they drafted me.”
Culliver, who watched the draft with his family in Philadelphia, has no trepidation about moving across the country for his career, he said. In fact, he had a hunch he would be headed to the West Coast because many of the teams that worked him out privately were from the West Coast, he said.
Culliver, 6-foot, 199 pounds, came to Columbia as a five-star wide receiver prospect out of Garner, N.C., but was moved to defense as a sophomore and had three interceptions. However, he didn’t have an interception in his final two seasons. He struggled as a senior after being moved to cornerback and played in only seven games due to a torn pectoral muscle.
Still, Culliver impressed scouts at the NFL Combine with a 4.36 40-yard dash time.
“This guy has the size, he has the speed, he anticipates routes well, but at times he’ll get into trouble peeking into the backfield, not very physical versus the run,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said on the network’s coverage of the draft. “What does he need? He needs good coaching. If San Francisco can coach this guy up, he has a chance to be a good player. I think he can help at least as a nickel corner.”
Culliver promised Friday night that he’s “not going to fail.”
“I’m extremely excited,” he said. “I’ve got a smile on my face, a big smile.”
Culliver wasn’t the only former Gamecock selected Friday. Defensive tackle Kenrick Ellis, who was dismissed from the team in 2008 and transferred to Hampton, was selected 94th overall (30th in the third round) by the New York Jets.