Conventional wisdom suggests rookie cornerbacks typically struggle in their first season in the NFL, but Ahkello Witherspoon has the talent to be an exception.
The third 49ers selection of the draft, Witherspoon joins a largely inexperienced group and has an opportunity to slot right in as one of the two starters on the outside.
After an impressive rookie campaign, Rashard Robinson figures to take one of the starting berths.
Like Robinson, Witherspoon fits the mould of the long corner that has been the staple of the the defense Robert Saleh is going to run with the 49ers.
However, he cedes experience to the similarly long Dontae Johnson and the speedy Keith Reaser and has received criticism for a lack of physicality and poor play in run support.
Witherspoon, per Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee, believes his main issue is a lack of consistency, rather than an inability to be physical.
"Every team I spoke to said they’ve seen it in (spurts) in my game, and to just bring it all the time. I think just playing the game, it’s going to continue to come. I think it’s just experience and being exposed to new situations. It will continue to be a more effective part of my game. – Witherspoon on physicality"
If he can harness that consistency then there is no doubting Witherspoon’s upside. He is extremely athletic for a man of his upside, demonstrates excellent footwork and can transition easily from press coverage to turn upfield and run with receivers.
With the long speed to stay with receivers deep and the ability to go up and make plays on the ball, Witherspoon has all the tools to quickly vault Johnson and Reaser and form an exciting starting duo with Robinson.