Sakamoto: How 3rd-round pick CB Ahkello Witherspoon Impact 49ers Depth?

On day two of the 2017 NFL draft, the San Francisco 49ers were once again on the clock. The team desperately in need of depth at the cornerback position, opted for one in the third-round (No. 66). Welcome, Colorado CB Akhello Witherspoon

At 6-3, 198, Witherspoon has a current skill set that drives coach’s nuts. On one hand, Witherspoon has a knack for the ball. On the other hand, he can’t make a tackle to save his life. A perfect example of a player who is strong at what the position requires, but lacking in all other areas, Witherspoon will definitely need to clean up his run support, if he hopes to suit up on Sundays.  

However, depth at the position was a high priority. The abrupt release of CB Tramaine Brock left a gaping hole at the boundary cornerback position. 

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“I think every team needs cornerbacks. You just look at 75-percent of our snaps in this league are played in what we call sub situations where you’re playing three receivers and I think the response to that for teams is you better be strong and healthy at those positions.

And so, we’re looking and the draft’s a great way to acquire some of those guys and there’s other avenues as well. And so, it’s something that, yes, we need to get better at that position,” said Lynch back on April 12. 

Fast forward to today and the Niners took a chance on Witherspoon despite his deficiency in run support. 

“Yeah. It needs to improve…it’s something that we raised to him and we didn’t hide from it. I said this and showed him the film, that bothers me [poor tackling], help me out here and he was aware that it does need to improve,” Lynch said.

So how does the selection of Witherspoon impact the 49ers depth? The front-runners sitting atop the current depth chart are second-year CB Rashard Robinson, CB Dontae JohnsonCB Keith Reaser, and redshirt rookie CB Will Redmond

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What this tells me is that the team is clearly converting DB Jimmie Ward to the single-high free-safety. No doubt in my mind that Witherspoon will fight for a starting spot his rookie season. But don’t take my word for it, as the 49ers general manager echoed that statement.

“There’s a great opportunity for him to do so [start], but he’s gonna have to earn that.” 

The way I see the secondary shaping up is the team starts Robinson at cornerback, Ward at free-safety, Reid at strong safety, and the other corner spot being a camp battle between Witherspoon and Johnson. Will that happen? Time will tell.

In three seasons with Colorado, Witherspoon appeared in 36 games (21 starts) while recording 77 tackles, 28 pass break-ups, and forcing five turnovers (3 INTs, 1 FF, 1FR). Witherspoon’s 22 of 28 pass break-ups came in 2016 which led the Nation. 

Ryan is the Founder/CEO of NinerFans.com, 49ers Beat Writer, Live Game Day Correspondent for Bleacher Report and member of Pro Football Writers of America. Born and raised in San Jose, he also graduated from San Diego State University. His work has been featured on NFL Network, 95.7 The Game, National Football Post, Sports Illustrated, FanSided Network, ESPN Radio, CBS Sports 810, and NBC Bay Area News. For more information, please contact him via email at ryan@NinerFans.com or call him at (408) 622-0996.

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