Every day leading up to the start of training camp set for July 28, 49ers.com will assess each position group on the roster as we get closer to the season. In this installment, we will address the cornerback position and any potential lineup changes heading into the season.
Cornerback might be one of the most interesting position groups heading into the year. While the entire secondary is returning in 2020, many, if not most, of San Francisco's veteran corners are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents in 2021. Beyond San Francisco's starters, there's not a lot of proven depth. The 49ers didn't address the cornerback position in the draft or in free agency. The team did, however, bring back Jason Verrett and Dontae Johnson this offseason on one-year deals. Can the returning unit continue their league-leading production in a modified offseason? How will the competition opposite Richard Sherman shake out? Will someone step up at training camp and add their name to the battle at right cornerback?
- Richard Sherman (10th Season)
- K'Waun Williams (6th Season)
- Emmanuel Moseley (3rd Season)
- Ahkello Witherspoon (4th Season)
- Jason Verrett (7th Season)
- Dontae Johnson (7th Season)
- D.J. Reed Jr. (3rd Season)
- Jamar Taylor (8th Season)
- Tim Harris Jr. (2nd Season)
- Jermaine Kelly (2nd Season)
- DeMarkus Acy (1st Season)
San Francisco's pass defense ranked first in the NFL with 169.2 yards allowed per game, the fewest allowed in the NFL since the 2009 New York Jets (153.7). The unit, headlined by Sherman, amassed seven interceptions, two for touchdowns, 32 passes defended and five forced fumbles, a vast improvement from the season prior (13 passes defended and zero interceptions). Collectively, San Francisco's cornerbacks contributed to a 49ers secondary that allowed the lowest yards per reception average in 2019 (9.7) and aided a defense that finished the regular season second in the NFL in yards allowed per game (281.8).
Richard Sherman: The All-Pro, Pro Bowl corner was back to his elite play just two seasons removed from a season-ending Achilles injury. Sherman allowed a passer rating of just 45.3 over the entire season, including in the Super Bowl. He surrendered just 29 completions and 227 receiving yards in the regular season and led the NFL with 0.44 yards per coverage snap, according to Pro Football Focus. The corner allowed only one touchdown reception on 549 coverage snaps.
K'Waun Williams: The 49ers slot corner appeared in 15 games in San Francisco last year and notched 51 total tackles, 35 solo, four forced fumbles, two passes defended and two interceptions. He limited opposing quarterbacks to a 68.9 passer rating when targeted and allowed 8.1 yards per reception against the slot (second lowest among qualified players at the position). Williams gave up only 18 first-down receptions on 63 targets in the regular season. The "Shark" allowed just one touchdown on 70 targets in 2019.
Emmanuel Moseley: The former undrafted free agent replaced Witherspoon following a foot injury in Week 3 of the regular season and stepped in seamlessly. Moseley earned a 68.0 coverage grade on the year — a top-50 grade among corners — and he even posted a 20th-ranked coverage grade (74.8) on passes thrown in three seconds or less, according to PFF. The cornerback allowed just six receptions on 11 targets for 58 yards, no touchdowns and an interception throughout the regular season.
Akhello Witherspoon: The former third-round pick made a strong start to the 2019 season that included a pick-six against Jameis Winston and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to start the season. Following a sprained foot in Week 3, the corner missed six games and was replaced by Moseley. Once back in the lineup, the corner started the final five games of the regular season and the divisional round of the postseason. After multiple rough starts, Witherspoon was pulled from the lineup. The corner aims to have a bounce back season in 2020 and challenge Moseley for the right cornerback spot.
Jason Verrett: The 49ers are hopeful Verrett can return to his 2015 Pro Bowl form in San Francisco. Verrett signed with the team in free agency in 2019 and dealt with a lingering ankle injury in the preseason. Following an injury to Witherspoon in the Week 3 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Verrett saw his first snap since Week 1 of the 2017 season. Following the game, the team announced the corner would be placed on Injured Reserve after re-aggravating his knee.
Dontae Johnson: The 49ers re-signed Johnson this offseason, who spent time as a reserve corner with the 49ers in 2019. San Francisco's former fourth-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft rejoined the 49ers in October after spending time with the Buffalo Bills (2018) and Los Angeles Chargers (2019). In a limited role in San Francisco last season, Johnson saw 20 snaps and registered three tackles.
D.J. Reed: The 49ers value Reed's versatility. He's spent time as a return specialist, safety and cornerback during his first two seasons with the 49ers. When Williams missed time, Reed filled in at nickel corner. Reed has appeared in 31 regular season games over his first two seasons with the 49ers and notched two passes defended, a forced fumble and fumble recovery for a touchdown. San Francisco's former fifth-round pick suffered a torn pectoral muscle this offseason and is likely to miss significant time.
Jamar Taylor: The 49ers signed Taylor earlier this month, a former second-round pick of the Miami Dolphins in 2013. Taylor spent three seasons in Miami, before seeing time with the Cleveland Browns (2016-17) and partial seasons with the Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks. The corner appeared in 90 games (41 starts) over his eight-year NFL career and has registered 31 passes defended and three interceptions.
Tim Harris: The 49ers selected Harris in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft out of Virginia. Harris appeared in two preseason contests last year and notched three tackles. However, the rookie was placed on Injured Reserve ahead of the final preseason matchup.
Jermaine Kelly: Kelly was a seventh-round pick by the Houston Texans out of San Jose State in the 2018 NFL Draft. Injuries plagued his rookie campaign, as the cornerback found himself on season-ending Injured Reserve. He was released by Houston that following August and signed to the 49ers practice squad in December.
DeMarkus Acy: Acy went undrafted out of Missouri and signed with the 49ers following this year's draft. He appeared in 47 games (36 starts) during his four-year career with the Tigers and registered 99 tackles, 23 passes defended, three interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. In 2019, he started all 10 games in which he appeared and tallied 15 tackles, five passes defended and one fumble recovery.