The San Francisco 49ers are moving more and more rookies into significant roles, and some of them are taking to them well. The latest is cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon. The third round pick struggled in training camp and seemed set to spend most of this year on the sidelines adding weight and learning how to be an NFL corner.
Four games into his NFL career, he might have locked up a starting spot for the rest of the season. After three games developing into an extensive rotation with Rashard Robinson and Dontae Johnson, Witherspoon replaced Robinson in the starting lineup against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Witherspoon played all but one of the team’s defensive snaps, and we saw a little bit of everything. He made a couple nice pass breakups, and got his first career interception, while also giving up a jump-ball to Alshon Jeffery that turned into a 53-yard catch-and-run touchdown. From my vantage point, it seemed like Jeffery had the slight edge, but he also had to make a ridiculous catch to keep the play alive.
PFF released their Week 8 grades right after the game, and Witherspoon was tops for the 49ers. He was targeted eight times, giving up three receptions for 66 yards and the touchdown. Certainly not ideal, but we are seeing more and more good work from him. Like the other young players, he’ll get the proverbial baptism by fire over the remaining half of the season.