Image Credit: Bay Area News Group
The 49ers’ secondary posted the worst coverage grade of any group during the 2018 season. At the close of the year with eyes to free agency and the draft, the fan base was desperate to shell out their hard earned money for new jerseys with names like Thomas, Adderley, Thornhill, or Bunting on the back. Instead, coveted free agent Earl Thomas became a Raven, and secondary players flew off the draft boards to other teams. A few minor moves were made; the front office felt comfortable with the players on the back end from last year and seem to believe that another offseason will help these holdovers reach their potential.
Richard Sherman manned cornerback position admirably in his first year back after rupturing his Achilles tendon in 2017. He was never known for his speed and that was evident even more in 2018 while he looked like he may have lost a step coming off the injury. Sherman had the benefit of living off his legacy as teams stayed away from him for the most part of the season, and he also reaped the rewards of having surprisingly poor cornerback play opposite him most of the season.
Second-year cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon was feasted on early in season. The first eight weeks of the season were tough on Witherspoon, highlighted by a Week 2 performance against the Detroit Lions where he surrendered 99 yards and two touchdowns and found himself on the bench at the end of the game. He was able to turn his season around; over the final seven weeks he didn’t give up a touchdown and didn’t allow more than 45 yards receiving in a game. In an interview during OTAs, Witherspoon admitted that he watched a lot of film, mostly highlights, of other cornerbacks and that he found himself playing out of position early in the season trying to make his own big plays.
The offseason brought former first-round pick Jason Verrett from the Los Angeles Chargers. Verrett has battled numerous injuries the last few seasons, seeing action in only five games in the last three years. If Verrett can stay healthy, and that’s a Jimmie Ward-sized if, he has Pro Bowl talent.
The 49ers used pick 198, their last in the draft, on Virginia cornerback Tim Harris. Much like Verrett, Harris has a history with season-ending injuries. His 2016 and 2017 seasons were cut short with a shoulder surgery and a broken wrist, respectively. He was able to bounce back and posted Pro Football Focus’ 11th best coverage grade in college football last season.
K’Waun Williams has been a solid addition to the team and has played a good nickel-cornerback the last two years. But he may have an interesting camp battle ahead of himself with second-year cornerback D.J. Reed pushing him. Tarvarius Moore, a safety-turned-cornerback-turned-safety, appears to be moving back to his college position following the injury to Jimmie Ward as reports out of OTAs seem positive on the transition.
The 49ers had an all-time low of two interceptions last season, and with a free agency class and a draft that were both flush with talent at positions of need, it was assumed the team would make some moves. Instead, the front office pushed their chips to the middle of the table and invested heavily in the pass rush, hoping that less time in the pocket for opposing quarterbacks leads to increased opportunities in the secondary. I don’t think the cornerback group got worse, maybe a touch better depending on Verrett’s health, but if the pass defense is as porous as last season it’ll be difficult for this team to make the playoffs.
You can follow Will on Twitter here!
Stay tuned to 49ersHub for more great 49ers analysis and coverage!