The San Francisco 49ers’ pass defense was among the best in the NFL in 2019, ranking second in DVOA. The Niners’ defense gave up a measly 178.8 passing yards per game last season, second to only the New England Patriots.
Much of the credit goes to the defensive line, with Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Dee Ford and the departed DeForest Buckner dominating the trenches. But, San Francisco’s secondary played a big part in the defenses’ improvement.
Richard Sherman and slot corner K’Waun Williams were ranked as the best cornerback duo in the league by PFF in 2019, and the pair is getting some love again going into 2020. PFF released its rankings of the top 25 corners in the NFL going into the 2020 season, with Sherman and Williams cracking the list.
Sherman came in at No. 2, behind Stephon Gilmore:
“A torn Achilles threatened to torpedo Richard Sherman’s career, but last season he showed how good he could be when he is at his best and 100% healthy. Though he had a rough Super Bowl, Sherman allowed just 373 yards and one touchdown all season long, including the playoffs. Passes thrown his way resulted in a passer rating of only 45.3, or barely better than if the quarterback had just thrown the ball away every play instead. Sherman’s physical tools may be on the wane as he gets older, but he may be the smartest cornerback in the game and has a freakish understanding of how an offense tries to attack him.”
The 32-year-old Sherman will be inducted into the Hall of Fame whenever he decides to walk away from the game. By all accounts, he hasn’t lost a step going into 2020 as he showcased his dominance during the 49ers’ training camp.
PFF has Williams ranked at the 21st best corner in the league:
“Another slot specialist, K’Waun Williams, was part of the reason the San Francisco 49ers were so much better defensively in 2019 than the year before. Williams had the highest PFF grade (80.3) since his rookie season in Cleveland and played more snaps than he ever has before as the team went all the way to the Super Bowl. Williams has the kind of speed and quickness underneath to thrive in the slot, where two-way go routes are a major threat to corners. And he is another player who thrives at keeping things in front of him, giving up an average of just 7.7 yards per catch in 2019.”
Williams is a versatile playmaker for the defense. He racked up 51 tackles (two for a loss), two picks, four quarterback hits, and a sack last season. Williams also played well in the postseason, playing 74.3% of the 49ers defensive snaps, recording 15 tackles.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh will look for either Emmanuel Moseley or Ahkello Witherspoon to win the other corner job. ‘Spoon got the first crack at it in 2019, but was eventually taken over by Mosely down the stretch of the regular season and playoffs.
PFF gave Moseley a 70.0 grade in 2019, while Witherspoon came in at 61.0. Moseley was also graded higher in run defense, pass rush and coverage last year, so he should have the advantage going into Week 1.
Who do you think will get more snaps out of Moseley or Witherspoon in 2020?