With training camp finally here and the NFL preseason looming, now is the time to analyze the roster and figure out who will make the cut, who is just a camp body and who is on the bubble. In this piece, we’ll be analyzing the cornerback position.
Last season we saw what looked like the worst secondary in all of the NFL — finishing in the bottom half in almost every category. Now this season, the CB position is practically brand new. With the departures of Rashard Robinson and Dontae Johnson, John Lynch ventured through free agency and the draft by signing Richard Sherman and drafting guys like D.J. Reed and Tarvarius Moore to strongly upgrade what was an extremely poor unit. Compared to last season, this current group of CBs shows an extreme amount of promise and upside as the offseason moves on.
So how does the entire group pan out? Let’s see.
Richard Sherman: LOCK
After spending 7 seasons with the Seahawks, Sherman is looking to have a strong comeback off of a season-ending Achilles tear. Viewed as one of the best CBs in the league, Sherman is taking on the mentor role to coach up the younger CBs that are on the come-up with the 49ers. Last season prior to his injury, Sherman had two interceptions to go along with 25 tackles and a fumble recovery. His presence alone has already had a major impact on the 49ers as a whole, and will continue to do so as the NFL season approaches. Recently, Sherman has stated that his Achilles is 100%, which is something that’ll be heavily monitored during training camp. Assuming he’s healthy, Sherman is the clear-cut CB1 on the depth chart.
Ahkello Witherspoon: LOCK
Coming off of his 1st season in the league, Ahkello is looking to improve on what started as a rough but finished as a very promising rookie campaign. A third-round pick out of Colorado, he is looking to improve himself physically and mentally this offseason. On his passion and drive for the game, he stated that, “Getting a taste of it [the NFL] and being in it, it’s even more inspiring and it makes me want to work even harder.” Last season, Ahkello played in 12 games and started 9 of them. He finished with 2 interceptions to go along with 7 pass-deflections, as well as a forced fumble and 28 total tackles. He looks to carry what will definitely be a promising and exciting second season into the NFL. Ahkello will strongly fit the CB2 role.
K’Waun Williams: LOCK (but…)
Playing primarily the nickel-corner position, K’Waun impressed Lynch and Co. last season, which wound up leading to a 3-year, $10 million contract extension that runs through 2020. One thing to keep in mind regarding K’Waun is that although I believe he’s a lock to make the 53 man, there will certainly be heavy competition behind him as others look to take his spot on the depth chart. Saleh has proved he isn’t afraid of moving CBs on defense to search for the perfect fit. Guys like DJ Reed and Jimmie Ward project to play the slot/nickel position, which will put pressure on K’Waun as time moves on. Last season, Williams played in 14 games, starting 5 of them, and finishing with 1 interception as well as 5 pass deflections. He will most likely stick at the CB3 spot in the lineup.
Tarvarius Moore: LOCK
Coming out of Southern Mississippi as a one-year starter, Moore is projected to play CB for the 49ers, although he came out of college as a safety. Moore measures at 6’2”, 193LBS frame. Bleacher Report’s lead draft analyst Matt Miller believed that Tarvarius Moore could be, “The best free safety coming out of college.” Transitioning to CB, Moore looks to inject his 4.32 40-yard dash speed into a defense that could definitely use more athleticism. Moore finished his senior season finished with 3 interceptions to go along with 87 total tackles and 1 forced fumble. Many draft analysts believed that Moore was a huge steal for the 49ers on draft day. As a rookie, Moore will most likely be fighting for the CB3 or CB4 spot on the depth chart.
Jimmie Ward: BUBBLE
After being drafted in the 2014 draft by the then-Baalke regime, Ward is looking to keep his spot on the roster after battling numerous injuries and inconsistent play during his time in the NFL. In his four seasons, Ward has never started more than 10 games, as well as missing 32 games in his career. For now, Ward is slotted to play the nickel/CB position, although his versatility with the safety position will greatly help his chances of making the roster. After Lynch and Co. decided to take on his $8.5 million team option, Ward has a lot to prove to show that he deserves a spot on the roster. Defensivebacks coach Jeff Hafley believes in Ward, stating that, “I couldn’t disagree more with anybody who has negativity about Ward… You have to respect him because of how hard he’s worked and what he does every time he steps out on the field.” Last season Ward, in 7 games finished, with 27 total tackles with 1 pass-deflection and a fumble recovery. He will likely be a Swiss Army knife on defense, assuming he makes the 53.
DJ Reed: LOCK
Coming out of Kansas State, the 5’9” CB/safety shows a lot of promise considering his size. In one of his interviews with the 49ers, Reed stated confidently how he, “Takes pride in being a lockdown corner.” In a separate interview with USA Today, Reed believed he had the best ball skills in the draft. Although every player will tell you they’re the best at whatever, it’s that kind of confidence that’ll win over coaching staffs, and motivate players like Reed to push themselves to do as much as they can. In college, he made a play where he tackled then UCLA LT Kolton Miller (who by the way is 6’8” 300+ LBS.) With the confidence that he has, could Reed be the next Richard Sherman (minus the size)? Reed also returned both kicks and punts during his time in college. In his senior season, he finished with 4 interceptions along with 9 pass-deflections and 47 total tackles. He also returned a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown. Look for him to battle for that 4th/5th CB spot on the depth chart. Reed has also been getting work at the safety position during training camp.
Greg Mabin: BUBBLE
Coming into his first full year with the 49ers, Mabin is simply looking to fight for a roster spot on what is already a deep CB group. He spent parts of 2017 with the Buccaneers, signing as a UDFA, and later the Bills before the 49ers decided to sign him from Buffalo’s practice squad. During the 2017 season, Mabin played in 6 games for the 49ers coming off of the bench, not contributing any significant stats. Although most of the CBs are new, Mabin may have stronger odds of making the team, considering he’s had some time to learn and play under Saleh’s system.
Tarvarus McFadden: BUBBLE (practice squad)
Tarvarus McFadden is playing with a chip on his shoulder due to being a UDFA. The former-Florida State safety was considered a 1st-round pick in 2016 before completely falling off the table in 2017. In 2016, as a freshman, McFadden finished with 8 interceptions and 6 pass-deflections. A reasonable explanation for the 49ers bringing him in can be that Saleh is looking for the McFadden that played in 2016. Will the 49ers be able to unlock the magic that once was Tarvarus? At the combine, he ran a 4.67 40-yard dash, which isn’t all that impressive for a DB. During camp, the 49ers are trying him out at CB, but it remains to be known if he’s either worthy of a spot on the 53, or simply a camp body/practice squad player.
C.J. Goodwin: CAMP BODY/PRACTICE SQUAD
Signing as a UDFA with the Steelers back in 2014, Goodwin was claimed off of waivers in May 2018 from Atlanta. The 28-year-old CB fits the camp body role during the offseason. In previous stints with Arizona and Atlanta, he would finish the whole season with just 5 tackles. The 6’4” corner fits the bill of a well-sized DB, but considering he’s already 28 and has bounced between teams, he’ll have to really turn heads if he wants a shot to make the 53, most likely as a special teams player.
*After finishing this article, Goodwin was in fact, released by the 49ers.*
Emmanuel Moseley: CAMP BODY/PRACTICE SQUAD
A 4-year player at Tennessee, Moseley put up impressive Pro Day numbers with a 4.42 40-yard dash and a 38.5 inch vertical jump. Although going as a UDFA, the 49ers quickly signed him once he was available. During his senior season, Moseley would contribute 38 total tackles to go with 1 interception and 7 pass-deflections. In his junior and senior years combined, he would start 22 of 25 games. Although undersized, Moseley has all the tangibles and athleticism to fit into Saleh’s cover-3 scheme. Will he make the team remains a question, however. His impressive college history and health should net him a spot on the practice squad, and may eventually reach the 53-man if injuries were to happen at some point.
With this rundown, there’s much to say and speculate on who will make it out of the CB’s. With only a few locks and lots of fringe guys, the 49ers are incredibly stacked with bodies at this position, and it will be an exciting battle once the pre-season arrives.
Preseason 49ers DB rankings: