The 49ers made about as much of a leap forward as possible last season, going from four wins in 2018 to reaching the Super Bowl. That doesn't mean every player followed suit, though.
Ahkello Witherspoon might have taken the most disappointing step back last season. The former third-round draft pick lost his starting job to cornerback Emmanuel Moseley in crucial times, and Witherspoon only played in 10 games.
General manager John Lynch knows this could be a make-or-break year for Witherspoon as he enters his fourth season in the pros.
"You know Ahkello Witherspoon is a guy, this is a big year for Ahkello," Lynch said Monday in a conference call with reporters. "No doubt about it. He's got to go show it on the field."
Witherspoon has the size at 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds, and the speed with a 4.45 40-yard dash, to make all the plays in the NFL. So far, that hasn't always been the case. He has three interceptions and 20 passes defensed through three seasons.
Lynch knows the traits are there for the 25-year-old, but his play needs to do the talking.
"I remember drafting him some years ago and all the qualities we still see," Lynch said. "Now, he's got to just consistently put it to work. That's something we're going to monitor closely and we are aware of that situation and we have a plan and we're going to execute that plan.”
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Questions surrounding Witherspoon could lead to the 49ers selecting a cornerback in the 2020 NFL Draft, even with the No. 13 overall pick. If Florida's CJ Henderson is available when San Francisco is on the clock, he'll be hard to pass up.
Henderson is 6-1, 204 pounds and ran a blazing 4.39 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine. He is a lockdown corner, and could fit the 49ers in the short and long term. Richard Sherman needs a running mate on the outside, and the veteran is entering the final year of his contract.
If the 49ers go another way with their top pick, they certainly could eye a cornerback at No. 31 or if they trade back in the second or third round. They saw firsthand in their Super Bowl loss to the Kansas City Chiefs that that a young, speedy corner is needed.
Witherspoon has all the skills to be the partner Sherman needs. He will have to prove himself soon, however, or he might be packing his bags for a new team.