49ers cornerbacks: Returning starters
The San Francisco 49ers will return all three of last year’s starting cornerbacks in 2019. However, only two corners are likely to retain their starting jobs when the team kicks off the regular season, beginning with the Niners’ biggest offseason acquisition of 2018:
Outside cornerback: Richard Sherman
It didn’t take long for Bay Area fans to set aside their hatred for former Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, who quickly became the leader of the 49ers’ defensive unit. After a respectable first season with the team, Sherman is the only member of San Francisco’s secondary who is certain to retain his starting role in 2019:
Per Football Outsiders, the 49ers’ pass defense DVOA of 18.1% on passes thrown away from Sherman’s side of the field ranked last in the NFL. Although Sherman wasn’t his pre-injury self in 2018, San Francisco managed a pass defense DVOA of 5.2% on pass attempt toward the veteran’s side of the field. Hopefully, an additional offseason of recovery will help Sherman return to his previous Pro-Bowl level of play in 2019.
Slot cornerback: K’Waun Williams
K’Waun Williams took a slight step back in the first year of his three-year contract extension with the 49ers, but the nickel corner still graded out as the team’s second-rated cornerback, per PFF. In 2019, Williams has the advantage of limited competition at the position, given defensive back Jimmie Ward‘s likely departure, and backup slot corner D.J. Reed‘s up-and-down 2018 season as the rookie split his time between cornerback and free safety.
Williams’ also comes at a relatively inexpensive cost, as his $1.5 million salary is nearly equal to the dead cap hit the team would receive if they parted ways with the veteran corner. Further development by Reed could push Williams out of a starting job during the season, but the 27-year-old nickel corner should begin the year as the 49ers’ fifth defensive back.