Ahkello Witherspoon was active this past Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals but played only played six snaps, and that was due to Emmanuel Moseley suffering from cramps in the third quarter. Before Witherspoon sustained a foot injury, he was playing at a ridiculously high level. The NFL is about an opportunity, and Moseley made the most of his. He has a future in the NFL, and hopefully, with the San Francisco 49ers.
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is faced with a difficult decision. Play the cornerback that started the season playing like an All-Pro? Or play the cornerback that looks more like a veteran than an undrafted free agent. NBC Sport’s Matt Maiocco reported that the decision has already been made. Witherspoon is going to return to the lineup as a starter. Here is head coach Kyle Shanahan on the decision:
“We weren’t going to throw Ahkello out there without covering a receiver at full speed (for the first time) in about seven weeks unless he could get three full days of practice in,” Shanahan said. “We walked through about 80-percent of our reps that week. Without getting the right amount of practice time in, it really wasn’t much of a decision.”
Life isn’t fair. Witherspoon doesn’t deserve to lose his spot due to injury. Moseley has exceeded expectations. Moseley’s success rate is 70%, which is third in the NFL. He’s been an aggressive tackler and a critical part of the run defense as well. Witherspoon has a 69% success rate this season. He, too, turned over a new leaf as a tackler and had a few big stops before the injury.
The staff can take comfort knowing that if there is an injury, Moseley can sub in, and there won’t be any drop-off. In longer down and distance situations, we could see more “dime” packages as well. Those are a couple of silver linings. Moseley’s emergence also means San Francisco no longer needs to invest in a cornerback this offseason, and—thinking ahead to 2021 when Richard Sherman’s contract is up—Moseley can slide into his spot.
I didn’t envy the coaching staff when it came to making this decision. There isn’t a wrong answer. The one worry would be Witherspoon not playing to the level he was prior to the injury. If that happens, things could get dicey. Witherspoon will also have had a full week of practice, and, as Shanahan said, he’s not rushed. If the staff didn’t like what they saw from Spoon, he wouldn’t play.
What would you do?