• Akash Anavarathan

Why the 49ers are disrespecting Emmanuel Moseley by not naming him a starting cornerback

The 49ers had just lost to the Atlanta Falcons in a classic trap game -- where a playoff-bound team overlooks an inferior opponent, dropping a nail-biter in heartbreaking fashion to receiver Julio Jones at the horn.

San Francisco's secondary was missing starters Richard Sherman, K'Waun Williams and Jaquiski Tartt, giving corner Emmanuel Moseley -- the former un-drafted free agent -- the start. He had one of his poorest performances of the season, giving up four catches on seven targets to Jones, including multiple first downs and a touchdown.

The post-game locker room scene was as quiet as I'd ever seen it for a team that already notched double-digit wins. Most players had their heads in their hands, trying to make sense of a blown lead against a team they had no business losing to.

I stepped up to Moseley, hoping to pick his brain about having to defend one of the most dangerous receivers in the game -- while giving up significant size. The second-year player responded confidently, vowing to never put together a performance so poor again.

I walked away from the five-minute conversation more convinced than ever that Moseley would be starting opposite to Sherman, despite his ever-lasting battle with third-round pick Ahkello Witherspoon.

Fast forward three weeks later to the 49ers' opening playoff game vs. Vikings, as Witherspoon trotted out there to start the game. Multiple penalties and a touchdown later, former 49ers' defensive backs coach Joe Woods had seen enough. They thrust Moseley into the fire and he held the trio of Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph to three catches and 24 yards for the rest of the game.

The former Tennessee corner had been the savior after Witherspoon couldn't stop a nose bleed. He stepped in multiple times and saved the right side of the defense, after D.K. Metcalf and Stefon Diggs torched Witherspoon down the stretch of the season. From that point forward, Moseley was the starting right corner for the No. 2 ranked pass defense, per Football Outsiders' DVOA.

Coming into training camp, most around the team believed that the starting nod would be given to Moseley, but San Francisco's coaching brain trust of Kyle Shanahan and Robert Saleh haven't publicly admitted that Moseley would be the starter.

The duo continues to push the narrative that the starting right corner position is an "open" competition, featuring the likes of Moseley, oft-injured Jason Verrett and former third-round pick Ahkello Witherspoon.

I'm not sure what more the coaching staff needs to see from Verrett, after he played in one game last season, giving up a touchdown and never appearing again. While the training camp hype machine has been favorable to Verrett and his blazing speed, the second-most technically sound corner on this team is Moseley.

The third-year corner proved it time and time again versus the likes of Odell Beckham Jr., D.K. Metcalf (twice) and Stefon Diggs.

He finished the season giving up catches on only 60 percent of his targets and gave up a passer rating of 80.2 to opposing quarterbacks. He also intercepted two passes -- including one in the NFC Championship game -- matching his total touchdowns given up as well.

Per Football Outsiders' success rate -- which takes into account down, distance and situation, Moseley was a Top-20 cornerback this past season, yet still hasn't earned the starting job. He had success on 62 percent of his plays, which was actually nine percent higher than Richard Sherman this past season.

At this point, it feels like the 49ers won't admit their mistake of drafting Witherspoon and signing Verrett and are trying to force a square peg into a round hole. When the coaching staff is heavily involved in the scouting of players, there's more politics involved when it comes to awarding the most qualified player with the starting job.

It's time for Shanahan and Saleh to start the un-drafted free agent out of the gates and not look back, because he's the second-best cornerback on their team.


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