• Reggie Cires

How Will The 49ers Cornerback Depth Chart Shake Out?

Image Credit: Tony Avelar/Associated Press

The projection for the 49ers depth chart is complex when it comes down to the secondary and its cornerbacks. Witherspoon’s improvement, rising stars in Tyvis Powell and K’Waun Williams, Jimmie Ward’s switch from safety to cornerback, and most importantly, Sherman’s Achilles rehab plays a large role onto the uncertainty of the cornerback depth chart.

Richard Sherman

At the left cornerback position, there are many questions as to how Richard Sherman will rebound from his Achilles surgery, having just been cleared for individual drills on June 12th, 2018.

Sherman has proven to be a positive addition from a veteran perspective, as the secondary has already benefited from his leadership and knowledge of the Cover-3 Zone defense.

Ahkello Witherspoon had the opportunity of learning how Sherman sees the field from his perspective and how that might add to his game in the secondary.

"It was incredible the way it worked," Witherspoon said. "All I wanted throughout college was to play across from Sherman. He was an idol of mine. ... In terms of playing across from him, I just wanted it so I could understand what he knows and learn the game how he sees it to build on the athleticism and what I already bring to the game."

Sherman will certainly be inspired this season. He will be out to prove the Seattle Seahawks wrong, while looking to perform well enough to gain the incentives in his contract.

The 49ers did not give Richard Sherman a “prove-it” contract with only $3 million guaranteed with strong incentives to not use him as a starter in this upcoming season.

A solid assumption would be that the 49ers will closely monitor Sherman’s rehab and growth throughout training camp and see if he is fit to be a starter come time of the 2018 season.

And although there might be more complications along the way, Sherman stated in an article for The Players Tribune on March 20 that he planned on being back on the field before the end of OTAs. "My rehab has been going phenomenally well, and I think that I’m going to come back better than ever," Sherman wrote. "Realistically, I’m on pace to be back on the field doing drills by June, and there’s no doubt that I’ll be ready to play come Week 1. That’s not even a question."

As for his play, Sherman’s Achilles injury might derail his performance, but he will still provide a much-needed veteran performance within the 49ers’ secondary.

Ahkello Witherspoon

At the right cornerback position, Ahkello Witherspoon performed exceptionally well in his rookie season and has continued to open eyes this offseason.

"I think if you put on tape of Ahkello from last year’s OTAs and now, you wouldn’t have any idea it’s him," defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley said in May. "Just the steps we took offseason, the confidence – he believes in himself now. He knows he can do it now, and he believes he can do it at a very high level. To see him actually day by day get better on things has been a lot of fun to watch. He takes things seriously. He’s really an intelligent person. He studies the tape and he learns quickly from his mistakes. I think day by day you do see him get better and you do see him get more confident. I’m very excited for him."

After one year in the NFL, expectations are high for Ahkello Witherspoon in the secondary as he is gaining veteran knowledge from cornerback Richard Sherman and engaging with his tape from the previous season. These factors will play a large role on the field in his expected start come Week 1.

K’Waun Williams

Before the 2017 season, K’Wuan Williams signed a one-year deal with the 49ers for $690,000. After winning the starting job, Williams quickly gained a 3-year extension worth up to $10 million.

Williams finished the season with five pass deflections and one interception, to go along with 54 total tackles. He was proficient in pass coverage, but stood out in his run defense.

As a defensive backs coach, you do not want cornerbacks constantly facing run stopping opportunities; but after watching film, Williams was regularly making stops, as opposed to getting to a running back after several yards already gained.

He showed his determination to get in there and do the dirty work that comes with run defense.

After Sherman’s signing, it is certain that the 49ers want to improve its secondary forthe upcoming season. However, Williams will have to compete against the four-time NFL Pro-Bowler Sherman to earn the starting job.

Realistically, it is difficult seeing Williams lose this job after his performance in the previous season, but Williams will provide depth to the 49ers’ secondary as a nickel back and perhaps serve as a starter if Sherman is not ready come the startof the regular season.

Tyvis Powell

Recently, Tyvis Powell has performed exceptionally well in minicamp and continues to make strides within the 49ers secondary.

Last week, Powell provided the defense’s top highlight as he intercepted a Jimmy Garoppolo’s pass intended for Aaron Burbridge in minicamp.

Powell hopes to make a roster spot as the number-four or number-five cornerback in the upcoming season.

Tavarus McFadden

San Francisco stockpiled defensive backs this offseason, including signing All-Pro corner Richard Sherman. Both he and Ahkello Witherspoon are projected to be the starters on the outside, with K’Wuan Williams and Tyvis Powell supplementing depth. However, a name that was increasingly mentioned within OTA’s and minicamp was Tarvarus McFadden.

McFadden was an undrafted free agent that was signed by the 49ers on May 1st, 2018. McFadden’s build and long arms is comparable to that of Sherman’s, providing Robert Saleh the lengthneeded to succeed in his Cover-3 scheme.

The only main issue circulating McFadden is his speed. His dismal 4.67 seconds in the 40-yard dash during the NFL Combine led teams to pass on him in the draft.

McFadden is a rising star as he has already had a stellar performance within minicamp. If McFadden has a strong showing in training camp and throughout the preseason, it could keep him on the stronger side of things.

McFadden’s upside, particularly if he can contribute on special teams, could earn him a spot on the roster as the 49ers number-five or number-six corner on the depth chart.

Jimmie Ward

Safety Jimmie Ward is a dark horse for one of the cornerback positions. After playing multiple positions on the field throughout the regular season, Ward recalls last year’s game against the Indianapolis Colts:

“This one game I had to play nickel, corner, and safety. Two guys went down at corner. KK [K’Waun Williams] kinda got a little banged up and he stayed at slot — and I had to go to corner, nickel, then back to safety. Rashard [Robinson] came back in the game. So right now they’re just really preparing me, just in case. The season is long and guys get banged up. It’s the NFL. So I’m happy to be doing what I’m doing right now.”

To provide more depth, the 49ers plan to test out Ward at the outside cornerback position during the offseason, while getting reps at safety, to provide as a potential backup to Richard Sherman.

“Jimmie Ward has played some outside corner in his career,” Lynch said, “We’re going to experiment with that this offseason and see if that’s viable.”

Ward has begun this process during the offseason program while Sherman continues to recover from two Achilles surgeries.


As of now, Sherman has continued to progress gradually within his rehab and there are no signs that will delay his return.

Witherspoon has demonstrated both in the previous season and in minicamp that he has grown as a player and is learning from Sherman’s perspective and experiences.

Williams performed very well as the starter the previous season, but it is most likely that he will sit behind Sherman.

Rising stars Powell and McFadden look to prove themselves both in training camp and in the preseason to get their hard-earned spots on the roster.

Although the 49ers cornerback depth chart remains uncertain due to unforeseen circumstances, here is my projected depth chart:

  1. Richard Sherman, LCB

  2. Ahkello Witherspoon, RCB

  3. K’Waun Williams, NB

  4. Jimmy Ward, SS/RCB

  5. Tyvis Powell, SS

  6. Tavarus McFadden, LCB


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