The San Francisco-to-Seattle pipeline is still very much open as the Seahawks have scooped up a pair of former 49ers during free agency: pass rusher Kerry Hyder and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon.
Our good friend Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area joined the latest Talkin’ Seahawks Podcast to share some insight on both of Seattle’s newcomers.
Beginning with Hyder, Maiocco explained that 49ers defensive line coach Kris Kocurek was the primary reason the defensive end landed in the Bay Area in the first place. Kocurek had worked with Hyder in Detroit and stood on the table for San Francisco to sign him prior to the 2020 season.
Hyder delivered 8.5 sacks as he became an every down due to a slew of injuries along the 49ers defensive line, most notably Nick Bosa.
“I think Kerry Hyder’s play priced him out of where the 49ers were willing to go for a guy they probably consider as a backup,” Maiocco said. “He’s a solid all-around player and performer. I think the Seahawks are getting a really good player.”
He won’t be a backup in Seattle given the Seahawks defensive front is far less imposing than San Francisco’s, particularly at the edge spots. Hyder has experience at LEO but will probably spend most of his time on the opposite side of the defensive line at the 5-tech.
“My thought, as much as I like Kerry Hyder, and I think he’ll contribute there, if he’s a starter on your defensive line and an every down player, I think maybe you can do better than that," Maiocco said. "But for a team that has some holes on the line, he’s a good chess piece to have because you can plug him in at a lot of different spots. You know he isn’t going to be a negative for you, it just depends how much of a positive he’s going to be.”
The biggest question left on the minds of Seahawks fans is whether the addition of Hyder will inhibit Seattle from bringing back Carlos Dunlap. Finding a way to land both players would greatly improve the overall perception regarding the team’s pass rush.
As for Witherspoon, San Francisco’s 2017 third-round pick fell out of favor with the team’s coaching staff for good in 2020. His four years with the 49ers was turbulent as he was benched on a number of occasions. Witherspoon spent Super Bowl LIV on the bench and watched Emmanuel Moseley take his spot.
Witherspoon was lauded as a prospect for his 6-foot-2 frame and quick feet, but it’s the mental side of the game that has proven to be his undoing thus far.
“If you see him running drills in a t-shirt and shorts, you’re going to be blown away by him,” Maiocco said. “He is everything physically, with his length, that fits into that prototypical Seahawks cornerback. However, Ahkello has been just on a rollercoaster, and he doesn’t play with sense of urgency. He drove the 49ers coaching staff here crazy with just the level of inconsistency. There were real questions about his desire to play hard.”
The biggest pre-draft knock on Witherspoon was a perceived lack of physicality, a critique that Maiocco isn’t sure the corner has been able to proven wrong.
“I think he can get kind of manhandled,” Maiocco said. “He is talented, no question about it, but one bad play seems to lead to another to another to another, and then you have a lack of confidence. There was no chance the 49ers wanted him back.”
Some Seahawks fans are hoping Witherspoon will be the next D.J. Reed, a 49ers outcast turned star in Seattle. But Maiocco warned that these two players are completely different case studies. For starters, San Francisco would tell you they regret not finding a way to keep Reed, who was hurt during camp last year and put the 49ers in a tough spot when building their roster. You wouldn’t hear that same sentiment regarding Witherspoon.
Beyond how the 49ers feel about each guy, their mental makeup makes them hard to compare as well.
“They have completely different personalities,” Maiocco said. “D.J. Reed has a little fight in him, a little dog in him. He wasn’t going to back down from a challenge. He’ll tell you that and you’ll look him in the eye and you’ll believe him. I’ve had Ahkello Witherspoon tell me the same things, and I walk away going, ‘Yeah, I’m not sure about that one.’”
The fact remains that Witherspoon has enough physical tools to warrant his one-year, $4 million contract. Seattle will surely trust its ability to connect with him, develop him and tap into any potential he has yet to display consistently.
It should be noted that Witherspoon showed promise at the end of the 2020 season posting three-straight games with a 77 or better Pro Football Focus grade to close the year.
“If they can do that, hats off to them, but there’s a reason why the 49ers didn’t want him after he’d been here four seasons,” Maiocco said.
Witherspoon will compete with Tre Flowers to start opposite D.J. Reed following the departure of Shaquill Griffin.