A case could be made that the most susceptible area of the 49ers’ defense is in the secondary.
However, there is reason to believe it should perform better than last year, and that’s even before adding reinforcements in the upcoming NFL draft.
That’s because Richard Sherman — far and away the 49ers’ best cornerback last season — is healthier now than he was then, according to Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer.
“I’m told that Richard Sherman was at no better than 80% last year, and he only got there after significant improvement in early November, right around when the Niners played the Giants,” Breer wrote in his Monday Morning Quarterback column.
“As such, San Francisco expects a much-improved version of the former All-Pro, which would give the roster a boost at a position where Ahkello Witherspoon struggled last year and Jason Verrett was added last month,” Breer continued. “Another thing that should help: Sherman had surgery to have sutures, initially put in as part of the rehab process, removed from his heel after the season, and he’s felt a lot better since.”
Despite recovering from a torn Achilles tendon, Sherman was able to perform at a similar level to his All-Pro years in Seattle this past season. He didn’t record an interception, but he only allowed one reception every 20.2 coverage snaps according to Pro Football Focus, the third-best mark among all cornerbacks in the NFL.
Simply put, opposing quarterbacks didn’t want to risk throwing at Sherman.
In addition to his value on the field, Sherman also served as an important veteran voice in the 49ers’ locker room and an extension of the coaching staff. With a defensive backfield that features young players such as Witherspoon, Tarvarius Moore, Adrian Colbert, D.J. Reed and others, Sherman will continue to have a role as an elder statesman.
The 49ers already have made some significant additions on defense this offseason with the trade for edge rusher Dee Ford and signing of linebacker Kwon Alexander. They’re expected to further bolster the defense with the second overall pick in the upcoming draft, and suddenly San Francisco could have the makings of one of the league’s better front-seven alignments.
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If Sherman is considerably healthier than he was last year, though? Well, that could help transform the 49ers’ biggest weakness into a strength.
And, given the additions to the front seven, perhaps a few more interceptions should be expected.