One of the more popular opinions is that the San Francisco 49ers should add a cornerback early in this year’s upcoming draft. I’m in the opinion that the way to upgrade from Emmanuel Moseley and Ahkello Witherspoon is by signing a veteran in free agency that has “seen it all.” No matter what happens, Moseley should be in the future plans for the 49ers. What he showed in 2019 was more than enough, considering the situation.
Strong stretch during the season
Moseley played the majority of his snaps from Week’s 5-12. During that time, he was PFF’s 12th-highest-graded cornerback for players that qualified during that stretch. Richard Sherman was No. 1, for those wondering. During that stretch, Moseley only allowed one touchdown. He also broke up four passes and had an interception. Coming in the middle of the season off the bench cold to play for an elite defense put immense pressure on Moseley. He did not disappoint. The 49ers pass defense DVOA from Week’s 5-12: -48% (negative numbers are better on defense.) The 49ers pass defense all other weeks: -12.8%. No, this isn’t all reflective of Moseley. Yes, he played a significant role in the 49ers’ pass defense.
Moseley made plays when called upon. He was always going to be “picked on” with Richard Sherman playing on the other side of him. PFF had Moseley allowing 57% of passes his way to be completed during this stretch. Technically, that long 88-yard touchdown against the Cardinals on Halloween was on Moseley. If you recall, he tried to undercut the throw and came up short. That was followed by Sherman missing a tackle, as well as a couple of other defenders. If one defender makes that tackle, Moseley would have been one of the league leaders in yards allowed during this eight-game stretch.
You just read a mock draft where the 49ers took C.J. Henderson from Florida at No. 13. His main knock is tackling. Moseley is aggressive against the run, which allowed him to make 15 stops. In the playoffs, Moseley has five stops. On the season, Moseley only missed a tackle 9% of the time. Henderson missed 20% of the time. When a cornerback misses a tackle, you can bank on the offense, turning that into a big play.
Reason to upgrade
For a first-year starter, Moseley was excellent. If he had been a high draft pick by the 49ers, I doubt we would be entertaining the idea of replacing Moseley. The reason you would move on from Moseley after last season is you’re banking on his play plateauing. That, or you’re 100% sure you can find an upgrade. If the 49ers choose to go wide receiver at pick No. 13, and in the trenches on either side of the ball at No. 31, then that will tell us the team is confident in Moseley moving forward.
Overall, Moseley did a great job of keeping plays in front of him. It’s the gambles that may lead the 49ers to bring in more competition. Moseley allowed six explosive passing plays during last season. It wasn’t as if he was being burned in coverage left and right. The 3rd & 15 play in the Super Bowl is a prime example. Then there is having to guard Julio Jones, or running onto the field late in the game against the Saints and allowing a 25-yard reception that you had no chance in defending. Those are the plays in coverage that Moseley allowed during the season.
What to do with Moseley moving forward
For every “fluke” reception Moseley allowed, he jumped a pass against Carolina for an interception or broke up a pass in the end zone against the Browns or Seahawks. I can show you a reel of plays where Moseley would allow a reception, but he’s flying up to make a tackle that would result in a four-yard gain. The 49ers have more pressing needs in 2020 than to upgrade from Moseley as a starter.
The decision to draft a cornerback isn’t limited to “was Moseley good enough in 2020?” The future contracts at cornerback may force the Niners to draft a cornerback. After this upcoming season, Moseley, Sherman, Witherspoon, and K’Waun Williams will all be unrestricted free agents. You don’t want to go into an offseason needing three new starters. I’d draft a cornerback, but not to replace Moseley. In 2019, he showed too much promise to move on. The 49ers found a diamond in the rough and should let their gem shine in 2020.