49ers have case for NFL's best cornerback trio, led by Richard Sherman

49ers have case for NFL's best cornerback trio, led by Richard Sherman

No matter how few pass attempts the 49ers needed from Jimmy Garoppolo in the playoffs to still reach the Super Bowl, football is a passing man's game. Defending the pass is key to a successful defense and the 49ers were dominant at it last season. 

The 49ers led all of the NFL by allowing only 169.2 passing yards per game last season, ranking just ahead of the New England Patriots (180.4). But San Francisco did allow 23 passing touchdowns and only had 12 interceptions. The Patriots, on the other hand, intercepted 25 passes and allowed just 13 passing touchdowns. 

San Francisco and New England easily were the top two defenses by coverage last season. But when it comes to the cornerbacks, which team is the top dog? Pro Football Focus has the Patriots as having the top cornerback trio in the league, with the 49ers right behind them. The 49ers certainly still have a case.

It all starts with Richard Sherman. The 32-year-old still is elite. In fact, his 90.1 PFF individual coverage grade was the highest in the NFL last season. In his ninth season, he allowed one touchdown reception on 549 coverage snaps. 

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On the opposite side of Sherman is Emmanuel Moseley, who emerged late in the season and took over for Ahkello Witherspoon. Moseley earned a 68.0 PFF coverage grade on the year, which was a top-50 grade among corners. He also had the 20th-ranked coverage grade (74.8) on passes thrown in three seconds or less. Despite only starting nine games, Moseley was credited with eight passes defensed. 

And then there's K'Waun Williams, who might be the 49ers' most underappreciated player. The 49ers' nickelback had a 76.5 coverage grade as an inside defender, the seventh-best among the NFL's 47 qualifying slot defenders, according to PFF. Williams, simply, was a menace for opposing offenses. 

Williams, 28, led the 49ers in forced fumbles with four last season and was tied for second with two interceptions. He only allowed one touchdown pass all last season, including the playoffs. In coverage and as a tackler in the open field, Williams was a star. 

Overall, this trio of Sherman, Moseley and Williams combined for an 89.2 coverage grade, per PFF. Defense is a team effort, but the 49ers allowing an NFL-best 9.7 yards per reception shows how stifling this threesome can be. It should come as no surprise that San Francisco also gave up the least amount of explosive receiving plays.

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The 49ers and Patriots each have one dominant cornerback on the outside. Sherman is San Francisco's guy, while Stephon Gilmore leads the way for New England. These two teams also have strong No. 2 corners and great slot defenders. Moseley's emergence is what could put the 49ers over the top. 

Even when Moseley wasn't starting games, he was being inserted into critical moments. Then, he earned his start in the NFC Championship Game and took advantage of the opportunity. Moseley played 100 percent of defensive snaps in the win, and his interception of Aaron Rodgers with one minute remaining in the first half led to Raheem Mostert's third touchdown.

Sherman is a star, that isn't going to change. Williams needs to be seen as one of the best nickelbacks in football, and is due a big paycheck in the near future. If Moseley can continue to grow, though, the 49ers can leap the Patriots as the best cornerback trio in the game.

Kyle Shanahan already seeing 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo take next step

Kyle Shanahan already seeing 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo take next step

After coming six minutes short of a Super Bowl title, the 49ers spent all offseason defending quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

Sure, they internally discussed bringing in Tom Brady, but Garoppolo was always going to be their guy. The 28-year-old is coming off a solid season that saw him complete 69.1 percent of his passes and finish in the top five in touchdowns (27), completion percentage (69.1) and yards per attempt (8.4) while leading the 49ers to a berth in Super Bowl LIV.

Both coach Kyle Shanahan and Garoppolo have been open and honest about the fact that the quarterback can make a big improvement during the 2020 season. Through the virtual offseason program and early on in training camp, Shanahan already is seeing Garoppolo take the next step and is confident his quarterback can make the necessary improvements in his second full season as a starter.

"Jimmy did some real good things, but he's just getting started," Shanahan said Thursday on KNBR's "Tolbert, Krueger & Brooks." "And that's why Jimmy's not a finished product. He's almost a second-year quarterback with a lot more mental experience because he's been around the league. But I'm excited for him to go into his second year, especially, last year when he came back, coming back from the ACL, just in training camp and stuff, he worked hard on all the mental stuff. But you can tell what a guy's concern is. When you're coming off an ACL, your concern is, 'Man, can I do this?' That takes a guy a while to get into stuff.

"Me seeing him now, talking to him on Zooms, but really just seeing him throwing with the wideouts on air, and getting into these walk-throughs, you can tell that he wasn't working on his ACL all offseason. He's been working on everything that he learned through his experiences of last season. And when you can do that, I don't see how you won't get better."

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Garoppolo was a little rusty during the first half of the 2019 season. Shanahan has admitted he relied more on the run game to try and ease his quarterback back into the flow after Garoppolo missed almost the entire 2018 season with a torn ACL.

But Garoppolo started to find a flow during the second half of the season, leading the 49ers to come-from-behind wins against the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams. The 49ers didn't ask a lot of Garoppolo in the NFC playoffs, as they used their running game to steamroll the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers.

Garoppolo had an up-and-down performance in Super Bowl LIV against the Kansas City Chiefs. He was efficient during the second and third quarters when the 49ers built their lead, but the later overthrow of Emmanuel Sanders is the play that will stick in everyone's mind.

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Garoppolo and the 49ers enter the 2020 NFL season with revenge on their mind.

Armed with a loaded roster that is ready to win now, the 49ers are primed to get back to the Super Bowl and finish the job this time around.

If Garoppolo can make the leap Shanahan expects out of him, that could be the final piece in a championship puzzle for the 49ers.

NFL rumors: Seahawks 'talking to both' Everson Griffen, Clay Matthews

NFL rumors: Seahawks 'talking to both' Everson Griffen, Clay Matthews

Jadeveon Clowney no longer fits into the Seattle Seahawks' plans -- nor is he a consideration for the 49ers -- due to the free agent's salary demands. It's difficult to see a path in which he would return for a second season with the Seahawks -- that is, unless he significantly lowered those demands.

Nobody, including the Seahawks, is counting on that. Consequently, they reportedly have turned their attention to two other free agent pass-rushers: Everson Griffen and Clay Matthews.

NFL Media's Mike Silver reported Thursday that Seattle could soon come to an agreement with one or both of the veteran free agents.

"The Seahawks' price has come way down," Silver said. "Clowney's price, if anything, is above their original $15 million-plus offer. So, maybe the (Tennessee) Titans, but we'll see on Clowney. But yeah, Everson Griffen -- long career with the (Minnesota) Vikings -- and then Clay Matthews, who had I thought a pretty good year with the (Los Angeles) Rams after he was healthy after his long run in Green Bay. Two former (USC) Trojans who can get after the passer. They are talking to both and I think a move could come pretty quickly, at least with one of them."

Griffen was drafted by the Vikings in the fourth round in 2010 and has spent his entire career with the franchise up to this point, amassing 74.5 career sacks over that span. Matthews, meanwhile, spent the first 10 seasons of his career with the Packers before joining the Rams for this past season. He has totaled 91.5 sacks over 11 seasons, including 8.0 in 2019.

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Both Griffen and Matthews would present a significant upgrade for Seattle's pass rush, particularly considering Clowney is unlikely to be a part of it. The Seahawks' 28 sacks last season tied for the second-fewest in the NFL. Their adjusted sack rate also ranked 30th in the league, and that was with Clowney.

While Griffen and Matthews have both been productive, neither is the potential game-wrecker that Clowney is. Nonetheless, should Seattle add one or both of them, it should only make the Seahawks more competitive within the NFC West.

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