The San Francisco 49ers have received excellent play from fill-in cornerback Emmanuel Moseley, who has mostly accounted well in relief of the injured Ahkello Witherspoon.
Before the 2019 season began, the San Francisco 49ers looked vastly improved on defense. Most of the upgrades are linked to the defensive line, which instilled confidence on this side of the ball. The main concern for the defense, and team has been the cornerbacks. At that time, the starting corners seemed like an unsure group, which made the depth even less assuring.
Aside from Richard Sherman, there were question marks on the opposite side with Ahkello Witherspoon coming off of a sophomore slump, Jason Verrett coming off a torn Achilles and a few others who did not manage stay on the 53-man roster.
Among those names was second-year cornerback Emmanuel Moseley.
Moseley was an undrafted free agent from Tennessee in 2018, who was originally cut by the 49ers after training camp. He was later signed to the team’s practice squad and then made his way to the 53-man roster later that season. Coming into 2019, he was the last option on the Niners depth chart, and wasn’t expecting to see much playing time, until the injury bug hit San Francisco yet again.
The Sept. 22 matchup versus the Pittsburg Steelers was frustrating, at times, as the Niners turned the ball over five times. However, losing the ball was minor compared to losing a player who was performing at such a high level at the time. Witherspoon went down with a sprained foot, which gave Niners fans an unfortunate feeling of familiarity, as medical staff attended the injured cornerback.
He would proceed to sit out the remainder of the game and was replaced by former Pro Bowler, Verrett, yet that only lasted a handful of plays before the veteran was benched after some shoddy coverage.
Verrett’s performance was underwhelming and short-lived, as he found himself on injured reserve yet again. The following week was a big Monday night contest against the Cleveland Browns, where head coach Kyle Shanahan called for Moseley to start the game in Witherspoon’s stead. Both Shanahan and general manager John Lynch showed great confidence in Moseley by not targeting a replacement cornerback via trade or free agency.
He seemed unfazed to be in the position he was in.
“Every day I’m preparing the same like I’m going to be the starter in there because you never know when your name’s going to be called,” Moseley said, via 49ers.com. “I treat every receiver the same, like they’re the best receiver. So I just got to go out there and prepare for that. You’ve just got to be ready.”
Sherman gave praise to Moseley, too, and knew he was ready to start.
“We have a lot of trust in E-Man and what he can do and how he can play,” Sherman said. “And that just comes from his preparation and what we’ve seen during training camp and throughout his career.”
The third-string corner was expected to be targeted often in the passing game,and it was not a reassuring feeling for Niners fans. Early in the second quarter, the Browns put together an impressive drive and it appeared as if they were going to score their first touchdown of the game. Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield delivered a strike in the end zone to tight end Demetrius Harris. But right before the ball hit his hands, it was batted down hard by Moseley. That play previewed the potential of what Moseley can do for the Niners and was a staple moment in defining his role on the team.
Moseley has continued to impress week in and week out, as he has posted a Pro Football Focus coverage grade of 74.4. He had his first carrier interception against Carolina Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen, who had yet to throw a pick before then.
Allen ended up with a 0.0 passer rating when throwing Moseley’s way.
He has continued to show success, as he has contributed as a starter to a top defense. He even posted a higher grade through three weeks than the original starter, Witherspoon.
He was not perfect against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 9, as he blew converge on a huge play to rookie wide receiver Andy Isabella, which resulted in a touchdown. But for an undrafted free agent, who will still grow as a player, Moseley has proven to be a steal for the Niners and will be an important contributor to the 49ers defense for years to come.