One of the few bright spots for the San Francisco 49ers during their injury-filled 2020 season was the secondary.
All-Pro corner Richard Sherman hurt his calf in Week 1 and only suited up for four more games the rest of the day. Slot corner K’Waun Williams only played in eight games, while Emmanuel Moseley missed four contests.
The injuries resulted in a big opportunity for Jason Verrett, who seized it in a big way. According to Pro Football Focus, the 29-year-old gave up less than 10 yards in four games, tied for the fourth-most out of all NFL corners.
PFF released its final rankings for all of the 32 secondaries in the league during the 2020 season and has the Niners at No. 11.
“Alex Smith appears to be a shoo-in for Comeback Player of the Year after what he endured, but in any other year, it would go to 49ers corner, Jason Verrett. From Week 5 of 2016 through the 2019 season, Verrett played only 67 snaps due to various injuries. San Francisco gave him another shot this year, and he finished the regular season with the 10th-best coverage grade among outside corners.
While we saw Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon only on a limited basis this year, they played extremely well when on the field. Each played just under 200 coverage snaps on the outside, allowed 0.48 (second) and 0.87 (19th) yards, respectively, per coverage snap.”
Despite missing pass-rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford for virtually the entire season, the 49ers’ defense finished fourth against the pass, after only surrendering 207.9 yards per game.
Here is where San Francisco’s defense ranked in a few other categories against the pass:
6.6 yards per attempt (No. 6)
10.3 yards per completion (No. 10)
5..8 adjusted net yards per attempt (No. 8)
Considering the circumstances, it was a successful season for the 49ers’ secondary. Veterans Jamar Taylor and Dontae Johnson performed well when they were thrust into action because of all of the injuries. The much-maligned Ahkello Witherspoon played two of the best games of his career in Weeks 16 and 17.
The secondary faces an offseason of uncertainty. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is now the head coach of the New York Jets, plus nine players from the unit are up for free agency. It looks like Sherman is as good as gone, but general manager John Lynch should be able to lock up key free agents like Verrett and Williams.
San Francisco’s pass defense will get a boost with the return of Bosa, and perhaps Ford if he isn’t released. Lynch can look to bolster the secondary at the draft as well. The Niners currently hold the 12th pick, and corners Patrick Surtain, Jaycee Horn and Caleb Farley could be on the board.
Which players do you think will be back from the secondary for the 2021 season?