The 18th NFC Championship game in San Francisco 49ers franchise history became one to forget on Sunday, January 29 in the 31-7 dismantling at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles.
However, there was one “big arrow up” at what was once a heavily questioned spot at the start of the year then during 2022 — plus an area that delivered one of the finest outings of the season despite the 24-point loss: Both cornerback spots.
The duo of Charvarius Ward and Deommodore Lenoir were supposed to have their hands full with two true No. 1 wide receivers in DeVonta Smith and A.J. Brown — also known as the Eagles’ 1,000-yard duo. However, noted by 49ers insider for The Athletic David Lombardi on Monday, January 30, Ward and Lenoir went on to put together this performance that became what he called a “big arrow up” for S.F: Ward surrendering just two catches for 16 yards his side, Lenoir giving up nothing.
“CB1 and CB2 were fantastic for the 49ers against a Philly team that featured A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith,” Lombardi posted. “[Just] 121 passing yards and 3.8 yards per play for the Eagles. Big arrow up for S.F. secondary.”
49ers May Have Finally Addressed Certain CB Concerns
This was once an area of the defense that had its most question marks and biggest scrutiny — plus the most ripping from fans when the defense made mistakes.
It began with Ward needed to be added to finally give S.F. a potential three-down shutdown cornerback during March 2022. In the middle saw Emmanuel Moseley and Jason Verrett going down with season-ending ACL tears, getting San Francisco to scramble and find a permanent corner opposite of Ward. Then Lenoir was questioned by fans and analysts if he was capable of starting as many brought up big passing plays being surrendered his way.
But the season ends with both Ward and Lenoir delivering their best outing yet together during the postseason…and during a playoffs period that saw growth from both men.
Ward went from being on the wrong end of the 50-yard strike from D.K. Metcalf in the Super Wild Card Weekend opener against the Seattle Seahawks to responding with surrendering five catches for 43 yards his side to the Dallas Cowboys and then the performance versus the Eagles. And he was mostly responsible for three Pro Bowlers in Metcalf, CeeDee Lamb and Brown in all three games (Brown had the two grabs for 16 yards with Ward in coverage).
Lenoir ends the playoffs as the 49ers’ interception king with two picks — and both came against a past 1,000-yard wide receiver he was covering in Tyler Lockett and Michael Gallup. Per Pro Football Focus, Lenoir drew Brown in coverage two times and surrendered nothing his side.
In the end, the 49ers may have finally found their true CB1 and CB2 moving forward. The latter cornerback spot became the biggest question mark once Moseley and Verrett went down.
Lenoir, meanwhile, sounded off on his final outing of the 2022 season on Twitter:
How Secondary Room Could Look for 2023
Ward’s deal is good until 2025. Lenoir’s contract also stretches until 2025 as he has two years left on his entry level four-year deal.
But the rest of the room brings out a new question for the corners: Who will provide depth?
Moseley and Verrett aren’t just coming off season-ending ACL injuries. Both are unrestricted free agents for 2023 once March 15 arrives (the date free agency can begin).
Meanwhile, Ambry Thomas can help add needed depth — but he missed the playoffs with a ankle injury and went from five starts in 2021 to zero in 2022. The Niners also have a decision to make with Janoris “Jackrabbit” Jenkins and if he’s worth hanging onto. Jenkins was signed to a one-year deal with the 49ers and may be considered an extra presence if needed. Lastly, 2022 rookie CB Samuel Womack could be lined up as a possible successor to safety/nickelback Jimmie Ward, who’s an unrestricted free agent as well.
It’s doubtful that cornerback will become a high need for the 49ers this free agency cycle compared to last season. But if anything, depth could be the necessity for a fast-growing standout CB tandem.