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49ers 90-in-90: Will CB Ahkello Witherspoon bounce back in 2020?

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

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

What a rollercoaster season 2019 was for San Francisco 49ers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon. Witherspoon started the season red-hot, and it appeared that the lightbulb came on. Witherspoon was playing physical, aggressive, and wasn’t allowing anything his way to be completed. Then, he was injured. After the injury, nothing was the same. Witherspoon lost his confidence and played like a player who wasn’t trying to give up a big play than a player trying to make a play. The difference was evident, which led to Witherspoon losing his job twice. I never thought the 49ers should have put him back into the lineup based on how Emmanuel Moseley was playing. At the same time, Witherspoon’s early-season numbers put him near the top of every cornerback metric.

To give you an idea of how well ‘Spoon played early in the season, his success rate for 2019 was higher than that of Richard Sherman’s. It wasn’t as if Witherspoon was targeted a lot less, as Sherman only had one more target. He had allowed 18 of his previous 22 targets to be completed. Fourteen of those went for first downs, while the other four went for touchdowns. That’s a man playing without an ounce of confidence.

Basic Info

Age: 25 (birthday is March 21)

Experience: Three accrued seasons

Height: 6’2

Weight: 195 pounds

Contract Info

Witherspoon enters the final season of his rookie deal. His cap number is $2.3 million in 2020. If the 49ers felt the need to release Witherspoon, they’d save $2.1 million. That would not be wise, considering the lack of depth at cornerback. Witherspoon will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, so it’s now or never if he wants to be a starter in this league, whether it’s for San Francisco or somebody else.

Why he might improve in 2020

Cornerback play from year-to-year is as fickle as it gets in the NFL. What’s promising for Witherspoon was that he was in position on the majority of the receptions he gave up. Think of the very last play you remember from Ahkello. It’s the divisional round of the playoffs, and the Vikings throw a deep pass down the sideline. ‘Spoon is right there, he‘s looking back for the ball, but he doesn’t play the ball well in the air, and that was the difference. If you can’t play the ball in the air, you’re going to struggle.

While Witherspoon was an aggressive tackle, he did miss nine tackles, which were the most of any other member in the secondary, despite playing fewer snaps than everyone else. Witherspoon must clean that up as well if he’s going to improve in 2020.

What to expect in 2020

If we don’t see the best version of Witherspoon this season, we never will. I mean, a desperate but focused player that knows what’s at stake. Witherspoon will have an opportunity to start at cornerback for a team that is expected to make a deep run in the playoffs. If that doesn’t motivate you, nothing will. I’d expect to see Witherspoon’s “best shot” this year. Whether or not that’ll be good enough to beat out Moseley remains to be seen.