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Setting expectations for Richard Sherman in 2018

How will the defensive star come back from the injury?

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NFL: San Franciso 49ers-Minicamp Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

With every passing day, the 49ers’ fan base is slowly forgetting Richard “don’t you ever talk about me!” Sherman and starting to get accustomed to Richard “Uncle Sherm” Sherman.

While the 49ers’ organization is enthusiastic about having a veteran mentor and leader in a young locker room, there seems to be an enigma around Sherman’s on-field productivity.

On Thursday, Pro Football Focus tweeted out this graphic, ranking the top-five defensive backs in passer rating allowed since 2011.

To the surprise of few, Richard Sherman was atop the list, allowing a passer rating of 47.7 when targeted by opposing quarterbacks. Followed by Sherman, was ChargersCasey Hayward, Darrelle Revis, Broncos’ Chris Harris Jr. and Tim Jennings.

Should fans be expecting the 2012-13 version of Sherman or the 30-year old corner back that’s coming off an Achilles injury to cap off his worst season as a professional?

Starting nine games in 2017, the ex-Seahawks’ defensive back totaled two interceptions and 33 tackles for the season. Arguably, it was Sherman’s toughest season on the field, having his worst PFF coverage grade since his rookie season (82.7), and giving up a career-worst passer rating of 75.5 when targeted by opposing quarterbacks.

These numbers should be considered with a grain of salt. While Seattle’s overall pass defense slipped to 15th this past season, they had a revolving door at the other cornerback position. When the Legion of Boom was dominating the NFL, Sherman either had Byron Maxwell or Brandon Browner lining up across from him. Since that time, it’s been a barrage of rookies or over-the-hill veterans.

While Sherman’s individual numbers are still solid for the average corner, the concern is that the 30-year old is trending in the wrong direction. To top it all off, Sherman finished the season with one of the most gruesome injuries — a torn Achilles.

Let’s take a look how players have fared returning from such an injury. In a period from 2011-15, there were 46 NFL players that experienced a tear of their Achilles tendon, but only 22 of them ever returned to the field.

49ers’ fan favorites Michael Crabtree and NaVorro Bowman both fell victim to Achilles injuries, but their career arc was opposite post-injury.

After suffering the injury in 2013, Crabtree returned to the field and has been a highly-effective pass catcher for the Raiders. He’s had a 1,000-yard receiving season and caught 25 touchdowns in his three seasons in Oakland.

While that’s the best-case recovery scenario, Bowman’s had a more difficult time on the field since his return. In five appearances with San Francisco in 2017, Bowman lost a step and wasn’t the sideline-to-sideline player that he once was. The 49ers’ front office recognized his decline in performance and sent him packing to across the Bay.

Not every injury is created equal, but the 49ers should have cautious optimism about Sherman’s pending return to the field. The outspoken star should be ready to go for training camp, so fans should have a first-hand view soon.

Although the signs are pointing towards a down year for Sherman, San Francisco is in a no-lose situation.

The 49ers’ secondary is builty around Ahkello Witherspoon, Adrian Colbert and Jaquiski Tartt, so Sherman just has to play a supporting role — not be the main star. The ex-Stanford cornerback’s value is also in the film room, presenting invaluable advice and expertise to an inexperienced 49ers’ secondary.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years of watching Richard Sherman, it’s to never bet against the man. Only time will tell if he can return to shutdown corner form.

But what do you think, will Richard Sherman come back healthy and dominate opposing receivers, or return as a shell of his old self?