Emmanuel Moseley

Three key 49ers' position battles to watch when training camp begins

Three key 49ers' position battles to watch when training camp begins

The 49ers’ pre-draft roster has taken shape, and most of the team’s starting jobs appear obvious at this stage.

Things will come into sharper focus at wide receiver with the 49ers’ actions in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. The 49ers have selected a wide receiver in 17 consecutive drafts, and San Francisco will undoubtedly extend that streak with one of their top two selections -- Nos. 13 and 31 overall -- or with a trade-back option.

The 49ers have to replace wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, and they will probably use a combination of players to fill those spots.

But here are three positions that shape up to have good head-to-head competitions in training camp:

Dre Greenlaw vs. Kwon Alexander

Dre Greenlaw went from being a part-time player as the strongside linebacker to an every-down player at weakside linebacker when Kwon Alexander sustained a torn pectoral.

When Alexander came back for the postseason, Greenlaw remained in the every-down role. Now, there figures to be competition between Greenlaw and Alexander to determine which player will remain on the field in nickel situations when one linebacker leaves the field.

Greenlaw proved to be a quick study as a rookie. He made the defensive play of the season last season when he saw what was coming and reacted quickly to stop Seattle Seahawks tight end Jacob Hollister just shy of the end zone on a fourth-down play in Week 17 to clinch homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.

Although Alexander was a big-ticket acquisition last year, Greenlaw earned the right to at least compete for the every-down job based on his performance over the second half of the season.

Emmanuel Moseley vs. Ahkello Witherspoon

Ahkello Witherspoon started the season strong after a disappointing second season. When he missed several games due to a foot injury, Emmanuel Moseley stepped in and held his own.

Then, Witherspoon struggled after returning to the lineup, and Moseley generally played well in the postseason after taking over.

The 49ers could use a pick on a cornerback during the first day or two of the draft. But, as of now, it appears to be Moseley vs. Witherspoon. There is added motivation for Witherspoon, who is entering the final year of his contract before hitting unrestricted free agency.

Moseley would enter camp as the clear favorite, but Witherspoon will have the opportunity to make some noise with a strong training camp.

[RELATEDHow 49ers' free-agent additions fit into 2020 season plan]

Tom Compton vs. Daniel Brunskill

The 49ers released starting right guard Mike Person after agreeing to terms with Tom Compton, who joins his sixth NFL team of the past six seasons. Compton has been a backup throughout his career, but coach Kyle Shanahan obviously sees something in Compton he likes. He coached him in Washington and Atlanta.

Brunskill served a valuable role for the 49ers last season due to his versatility. He started games at right tackle, left tackle and right guard. Brunskill should benefit from a competition, where he can focus on playing just right guard.

Brunskill showed he can step into the lineup and play at a high level. He is 26, and he should continue to improve for a while -- especially if he’s able to concentrate on just one position.

Why Xavier Rhodes might interest 49ers after Richard Sherman's success

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AP

Why Xavier Rhodes might interest 49ers after Richard Sherman's success

Richard Sherman has one side of the field locked down for the 49ers, but the soon-to-be 32-year-old can't be counted on forever. On the other side, Ahkello Witherspoon and Emmanuel Moseley have shown flashes of promise, but both are entering the final year of their contracts.

As such, the 49ers' cornerback group could look fairly different in the not-too-distant future. Depending on how satisfied they currently are with the position, they might consider an intriguing name that just became available.

The Minnesota Vikings released cornerback Xavier Rhodes on Friday. Rhodes, 29, has spent all seven seasons of his career with the Vikings since being selected by them with the No. 25 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.

He quickly found success with Minnesota and was named to back-to-back Pro Bowls in 2016 and 2017, in between which he signed a five-year, $70.11 million contract extension. Ultimately, he wasn't able to finish that contract, as his tenure with the organization ceased Friday.

The Vikings' decision to release Rhodes was likely centered around two things. For one, he carried a $12.9 million cap hit, and Minnesota saves $8.1 million in releasing him. And, more importantly, he didn't prove he was worth that value last season.

Rhodes struggled mightily in 2019, in what proved to be the worst season of his career. He was flagged for 10 penalties, and allowed opposing quarterbacks to post a 127.8 passer rating (fourth-worst among all CBs) and complete 82 percent (second-worst among all CBs) of their passes against his coverage. He also failed to record an interception for the first time since his rookie season.

So, it begs the question: Is Rhodes a potential fit for San Francisco?

That all depends on if you think he can get back to his Pro-Bowl level. At 6-1, 218 lbs., Rhodes has prototypical size for defensive coordinator Robert Saleh's system, and one could reason that his numbers would improve when 1. playing alongside a better defense, and 2. not getting the toughest assignment each time out. He also has a fair amount of playoff experience, and though hampered by injuries last season, has been very dependable throughout his career.

That's only part of the equation, though.

For Rhodes to fit with the 49ers, he likely would have to accept a much lower salary than he would be able to get from another team. San Francisco already has very limited cap space, and some big fish to fry. Massive extensions loom for standouts George Kittle and DeForest Buckner, and main contributors like Arik Armstead and Jimmie Ward are free agents. There are numerous teams with both more salary-cap space and a bigger need at cornerback than San Francisco, so a pairing is ultimately unlikely.

[RELATED: Report: 49ers adjust Buckner's fifth-year option value]

That said, many assumed Sherman's career was in the toilet when he came over to the 49ers after he was let go by the team that drafted him. And guess who made the Pro Bowl last season?

If Rhodes finds his way to San Francisco, you can assume both parties convinced themselves something similar is possible with him.

49ers' Dre Greenlaw, Emmanuel Moseley benefit from NFL's performance-based pay

49ers' Dre Greenlaw, Emmanuel Moseley benefit from NFL's performance-based pay

Cornerback Emmanuel Moseley and linebacker Dre Greenlaw ranked among the top earners in the NFL’s performance-based pay distribution for the 2019 season, the league announced on Thursday.

The extra compensation for players comes from funds created for a supplemental form of compensation based on a comparison of playing time to salary. In general, players with lower salaries who play a high percentage benefit most from the program.

Moseley, who entered the league as an undrafted player in 2018, picked up $500,519. Greenlaw, a fifth-round draft pick, earned an additional $339,981 through the program.

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Greenlaw and Moseley both made salaries of $495,000 last season. Greenlaw started 11 regular-season games, while Moseley started nine games.

Kansas City cornerback Charvarius Ward made a league-high $654,750 in performance-based pay.