Should the 49ers Insert Ahkello Witherspoon Back Into the Starting Lineup?
Jose Luis Sanchez III
One of the key injured players for the San Francisco 49ers was cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, who suffered a high ankle sprain back in week three against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Witherspoon was playing at such a high-level and was easily the most improved defensive player for the 49ers for the first few games.
However, his temporary replacement, Emmanuel Moseley, came in and has done a wondrous job in relief. The secondary performance of the 49ers has not skipped a beat with Moseley as the starter opposite of Richard Sherman. In fact, the case can be made that the defense is better with Moseley in there.
With Witherspoon poised for a return this week against the Seattle Seahawks, should the 49ers insert him back into the starting lineup?
It really is a tough call because both players played so impressively in every game this season. Although, Moseley did hurt his stock against the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night when Andy Isabella beat him on a crosser that led to a big touchdown play. However, short weeks like that shouldn't carry too much weight when judging a player.
Prior to week nine, Moseley was ranked as a top 10 graded cornerback by Pro Football Focus. The guy has just been in complete shutdown mode since taking over the reigns as the starter. It is such a tough position to be in for Robert Saleh on making this decision. On one hand, he had a player in Witherspoon who was soaring high until he got injured. While on the other, he has a young stud in Moseley who shows no signs of slowing down.
Much like Moseley, Witherspoon himself was ranked as a top cornerback in the game by Pro Football Focus in the top 20. While choosing a starter does provide a problem, it is a good problem to have. The talent level of the secondary is exponentially better than what anyone thought it was during the Summer. Sure, the pass rush helps them tremendously, but each of these corners have risen to the occasion when challenged.
I would expect the 49ers to give Witherspoon his spot back, much like how they did with Jimmie Ward. That is, of course, unless Saleh believes Moseley is in the top 11 best defensive players. It'll be telling to see who will get the nod as the week goes on. However, the 49ers likely won't have to worry themselves too much about this. With Kwon Alexander out for the season, utilization of extra defensive backs is an option for them.
It isn't an absolute answer, but it is surely one I would expect them to explore. One thing is for sure, both Witherspoon and Moseley will be looked at to answer the call on Monday night against the Seahawks. Their receiving corp. is a very underrated one. The talent they have doesn't involve big names, but they are dangerous and deep.
The showing this group put on against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was scary. For the upcoming Monday night matchup, it really doesn't matter who will start that game because Witherspoon and Moseley will be needed to play a heavy role in the success of the 49ers' defense.