Having perennial All-Pro Richard Sherman lock down the left side of the field has been a luxury for the San Francisco 49ers. The 32-year-old gave up a passer rating of just 46.8 in 2019 when targeted, and was ranked as the best corner in NFL by Pro Football Focus.
Led by Sherman, and a dominant pass rush, the Niners ranked second in passing defense last season. With K’Waun Williams, the nickel slot, and the combination of Jimmie Ward and Jarquiski Tartt at safety, we know how a majority of the starting secondary will look in 2020.
But, who will start opposite Sherman on the outside? Emmanuel Moseley stepped in, and his moments when the original starter Ahkello Witherspoon went down with an injury last season. PFF gave Moseley a 68.0 grade in 2019, and he played pretty well in Weeks 5-to-12 when he only gave up a single touchdown in coverage. Moseley was good in his second season in the league, but he needs to prove that he can sustain this level of play in 2020 in order to solidify himself as a starter for the long haul. Just look back at how Adrian Colbert was thought of during his early days in the Bay Area. I like what Moseley brings to the team, and if he can limit the big plays, the Niners will certainly look at signing him to a long-term deal after the 2020 season.
Stats from 2019 from a UDFA in 2018 vs a first rounder in 2018. if he plays like last year, Moseley is a star. pic.twitter.com/xMTKOoMLFE— Kyle Posey (@KP_Show) June 7, 2020
Witherspoon has been frustrating. He has moments that make you want to pull your hair out, such as the long touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs during last year’s Divisional Round playoff game. But, he has the size, at 6’2, and 195 pounds, in addition to the quickness to be the second starter.
General manager John Lynch spoke about Witherspoon just prior to the 2020 NFL Draft.
“You know Ahkello Witherspoon is a guy, this is a big year for Ahkello,” Lynch said on Monday. ”No doubt about it. He’s got to go show it on the field.”
PFF gave Witherspoon a 61.0 grade in 2019, in what was an up-and-down year for the 25-year-old. Witherspoon missed five games with an injury and played the majority of defensive snaps until a poor showing against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 17. Seahawks’ QB Russell Wilson was targeting Witherspoon in the fourth quarter, and it worked as Seattle got back into the game. During that final quarter, It seemed defensive coordinator Robert Saleh lost faith in the 2017 third-round pick, turning to Moseley to close out the season.
In the playoffs, Witherspoon didn’t play a single defensive snap against the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs. He has all the physical tools, but his decision making and football IQ need to improve in order for him to be a long-term solution.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Saleh give the first crack to Witherspoon going into camp, just based on what we saw last year, but if he does, I expect him to have a short leash. The team seems to believe Witherspoon will turn the corner, but if he struggles in 2020, it could mean the end of his in the Bay Area.
Moseley is the better hitter, and I love his ability to jump routes, so he is my choice to be the starter going into Week 1. He’s more consistent than ‘Spoon, and as I said above, if he can limit his tendencies to react to the QB instead of the receiver, he should be the one starting opposite of Sherman.
Who do you think will be the starting second corner in 2020?