In 2019, the San Francisco 49ers‘ defense took the NFL by storm, arguably becoming the league’s best defense by the end of the year.
While players like defensive end Nick Bosa, linebacker Fred Warner and corner Richard Sherman were important faces on the San Francisco defense, there were plenty of players who didn’t get national recognition.
One is a player who lines up opposite of Sherman: corner Emmanuel Moseley. Moseley had a fairly exceptional sophomore season in the league after being undrafted in the 2018 offseason and appearing in just one game in his rookie season.
Year 2 for the former Tennessee Volunteer saw him not only earn his first career start, but make the most of fellow CB Ahkello Witherspoon’s injury, impressing enough to earn a few more starts after Witherspoon’s return, including in the NFC Championship and Super Bowl LIV.
However, was his performance enough to warrant the starting nod in 2020?
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Moseley vs. Witherspoon
Witherspoon’s 2019 started incredibly hot. The Colorado alum opened his account with a pick-six on Tampa Bay Buccaneer quarterback Jameis Winston in Week 1’s 31-17 win, looking much closer to the potential the 49ers believe Witherspoon possesses.
However, the corner suffered a sprained foot in Week 3, leading to Moseley’s turn. While his play wasn’t drastically better or worse than Witherspoon’s(one interception a piece, Moseley allowed 30 catches on 51 targets, Witherspoon allowed 29 on 53 targets,) there is one area in which Moseley shined: in the endzone.
According to the Sacramento Bee’s Chris Biderman, Moseley allowed just 2 touchdowns to Witherspoon’s 6 while also averaging 1.08 yards per coverage snap compared to Witherspoon’s 1.20. For reference, Sherman led the NFL with 0.44 yards per coverage snap.
In the context of clutch play, Moseley’s pick in the NFC Championship game is often forgotten, due to the fact that his mistake to allow a 44-yard Tyreek Hill completion late-game against the Kansas City Chiefs was a major factor in the Super Bowl LIV loss.
However, Moseley proved both in big-time regular season matchups as well as the playoffs that the spotlight doesn’t often blind the former Volunteer. One play doesn’t define him, but one play doesn’t define Witherspoon either.
John Lynch on Moseley and Witherspoon
Back in April, 49ers general manager John Lynch commented to KNBR on where San Francisco was at in terms of the secondary, stating that the team is confident in the group they have.
He also added specific tidbits on Moseley and Witherspoon, with his words on Witherspoon being the more interesting of the two.
“Emmanuel Moseley is a guy who played extremely well,” Lynch said. “I don’t think we’re in the Super Bowl without Emmanuel Moseley.
“It’s a huge year for Ahkello Witherspoon. He’s going into that last year of his rookie deal, and Ahkello has flashed, at times. He consistently needs to go do it this year. The great thing is he has it in his body to do so.”
The 49ers are obviously willing to keep moving forward with Witherspoon for 2020, but it’s interesting for a GM to outright say that an upcoming season is a prove-it season. If Witherspoon’s future lies with the 49ers past this season, he’ll have to beat out Moseley and show he’s San Francisco’s No. 2 corner.
Evan Reier is a sportswriter covering the San Francisco 49ers for Heavy.com and local sports for the Montana Standard in Butte, Mont. Reach out to him on Twitter at @evanreier and join our 49ers community at Heavy on 49ers on Facebook.