49ers roster: Will Emmanuel Moseley hold onto starting job?
By Peter Panacy
The 49ers probably want to make Emmanuel Moseley a starting cornerback in 2021, but there’s a solid chance he winds up as a backup this season.
If injuries aren’t a factor, the San Francisco 49ers‘ Emmanuel Moseley seems to be on the shakiest ground, at least in terms of starting, for one of the team’s three starting cornerback spots.
Jason Verrett and K’Waun Williams are all but locked in for boundary and nickel duties, respectively. But Moseley, penciled in as the No. 2 boundary corner opposite Verrett, hasn’t quite solidified himself as a full-time starter.
Close, but not quite.
The 2018 undrafted free agent out of Tennessee got his chance in 2019, thanks to then-Niners cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon suffering a lengthy injury, which then led to Moseley regularly finding himself in the starting lineup, only to bounce out of it at multiple times the following season.
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com
Moseley has had his ups and downs, yes. And having just turned 25 years old, it’s still OK to assume he’s developing.
Whether or not that’ll translate into him being a full-time starter in 2021 and beyond, though, is still up for debate, and Niner Noise explores this in our latest “Who is?” installment.
Why Emmanuel Moseley improves with 49ers in 2021
One of Moseley’s first endorsements in 2019 came from cornerback Richard Sherman, and Sherm appeared to be right that year in the wake of Witherspoon’s injury.
Pro Football Focus gave Witherspoon a 70.0 overall grade that year with a solid 68.0 mark in pass coverage, yet those numbers dropped to 58.3 and 54.6, respectively, in 2020 with Moseley allowing opposing quarterbacks to post a 99.8 passer rating when targeting him.
A possible explanation is the significant drop in San Francisco’s pass-rush department from 2019 to 2020, namely losing EDGE Nick Bosa to a season-ending ACL tear early.
Few corners can stay with an even average wide receiver for lengthy periods of time, so players like Bosa being out meant Moseley had to spend far too much time trying to keep up with pass-catching targets.
Look for that to change with Bosa coming back in 2021.
Why Emmanuel Moseley regresses with 49ers in 2021
It’s OK for young defensive backs to go through rough stretches from time to time, and many a cornerback not necessarily viewed as pro-ready right out of college can take a few years to fully acclimate.
This possibly explains why Moseley has flashed times of brilliance but has gone through cold spells, but the concern would be he already reached his ceiling and perhaps even exceeded his realistic playing abilities with his efforts in 2019.
Not unlike a former 49ers cornerback, Rashard Robinson, back in 2016.
An uptick in the pass rush could help matters a lot here. Yet it’s entirely possible Moseley simply remains one of those corners who can start for a stretch in a pinch but shouldn’t be counted upon as a full-time starter.
Projected role with 49ers this season and beyond
Moseley inked a two-year deal with the Niners during the offseason, removing him from restricted free-agent status. And with over $4.3 million guaranteed, he’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
The question, however, is what kind of role he’ll hold with San Francisco this season and next.
Right now, it would appear as if the 49ers fully intend to let Moseley start alongside Verrett. But after the 49ers used two picks in the 2021 NFL Draft on cornerbacks — a Round 3 selection on Ambry Thomas and a Round 5 selection on Deommodore Lenoir — one can at least assume Moseley isn’t automatically guaranteed a starting role.
Another player in the mix, too, is veteran cornerback Dontae Johnson, who was re-signed to a one-year deal during the offseason and could potentially plug into a starting spot if Moseley shows any serious signs of regression.
Fortunately for Moseley, his proverbial “pole position” seems to be in front of those three names heading into training camp, and he’ll be penciled in as the starter for 2021.
Putting things bluntly, it’s his job to lose.