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49ers 90-in-90: Ahkello Witherspoon

Breaking down the 90 players on the 49ers offseason roster in 90 posts (over 90 or so days). Today is cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon.

Jacksonville Jaguars v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

At the start of last season, the Niners were very excited about their tall, young physical press CB emerging as a surprise NFL starter. Unfortunately, that CB was Rashard Robinson, who flamed out quickly in a fog of bad attitude, erratic play and a league-worst DPI rate.

GM John Lynch dumped him on the silly New York Jets, in return for a fifth round draft pick, which he then packaged with OT Trent Brown for New England’s 3rd round pick. The 49ers used that to grab 6’2, 193-lb Georgia Southern DB Tarvarius Moore, who will learn the CB ropes under Richard Sherman. Meanwhile, Rashard played only 20 defensive snaps in half a season for the Jets and was arrested for possession of “THC infused Peanut Budda Buddah Candy.

Robinson’s trade turned out to be addition by subtraction, because his departure cleared the way for rookie 3rd-round pick Ahkello Witherspoon. He started the second half of the season at cornerback and quickly became the cornerback that the team had hoped Rashard would be. He had 2 interceptions, 7 passes defensed and a forced fumble, with a PFF rating of 81.1.

Fun fact: his grandfather was a famous musician who had a #1 R&B hit in 1949 with “Ain’t Nobody’s Business.” The New York Times called Jimmy Witherspoon “one of the great postwar blues singers and a figure who naturally bridged the worlds of blues and jazz.”

Basic info

Age: 23 (not 24 until March 21, 2019)

Experience: 1 accrued season

Height: 6’2

Weight: 195 pounds

Cap Status

Entering second season of four year, $3.8 million contract. He is due a $638,000 base salary, with a fourth of his $973,000 signing bonus billed to this year’s salary cap. If the 49ers released him post June 1, they would clear $638,000 in cap space, and carry $243,000 in dead money for each of the next three years. They would also be idiots.

What to expect in 2018

Barring injury, Witherspoon is a lock to make the team and start at CB opposite Richard Sherman. Ahkello may face a little more pressure this year, since he won’t be playing across from a terrible CB that quarterbacks love to pick on, but the mentoring of a future Hall of Fame CB should more than make up for that.

The Niners secondary, which has been a huge liability for years, is solidifying into a strong, big and deep unit with Moore, Jimmie Ward and K’Waun Williams backing up the starters. Witherspoon’s success is a huge part of that.

Odds of making the roster

99.99%. It would take a major injury or a very troubling off-field incident to keep ‘Spoon off this team. Given that he’s an Ecology/Evolutionary Biology major who aims to be a surgeon after his NFL career is done, neither seems very likely.