Nickel back K’Waun Williams made the choice to sit out the 49ers’ regular-season finale because he felt his lack of preparedness might hinder the team’s defense.
Williams did not practice a week ago while on the reserve/COVID-19 list. He was cleared to play last Saturday but decided against playing in the do-or-die game the following day.
“I understood it,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “Everybody has their reasons. I've known K’Waun for a while. K’Waun is very meticulous and a regimented guy, and there was a lot of stuff that he missed and his body didn't feel right going through all that.”
Shanahan said he considers Williams to be one of the top nickel backs in the NFL. There is little doubt Williams will return to his usual role of covering the slot receiver on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys in an NFC playoff game. He went through a full week of practice this week.
“He didn't feel it was right for him to go,” Shanahan said. “And if K’Waun feels that way, we know K’Waun pretty well.
“You guys can watch how K’Waun plays the game, you never question K’Waun. And he did put a lot into it trying to go and he did not feel right and that he felt he wasn’t in a good spot to go on Sunday. So we fully supported that and it was next man up and we needed a number of them.”
Dontae Johnson started at nickel back against the Los Angeles Rams. Later, when Johnson had to fill in at safety, newly signed Darqueze Dennard played nickel.
The Rams’ Cooper Kupp, who led the NFL in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns, caught all seven passes thrown his way for 118 yards and a touchdown against the 49ers. The Rams jumped out to a 17-0 lead before the 49ers rallied for a 27-24 victory in overtime to clinch a playoff spot.
Williams and the 49ers' pass defense will face a big challenge Sunday against the Cowboys' top-ranked offense.
The Rams line up Cedrick Wilson Jr. in the slot while CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper are the team’s top outside receivers.
While lined up in the slot, Wilson caught 44 passes for 567 and six touchdowns this season. Williams, like everyone else on the 49es' defense, will have to be on top of his game.