A year ago, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon was easily the subject of much criticism amid what turned out to be a wash of a 2018 season. Pro Football Focus even ranked Witherspoon dead last among 112 qualifying cornerbacks last year, suggesting the Niners weren't going to get much of a return from their 2017 third-round NFL Draft investment.

Two weeks into the 2019 season, however, Witherspoon is looking like an entirely different player. He was instrumental in shutting down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' top wide receiver, Mike Evans, in Week 1. And those solid efforts continued during the 49ers' 41-17 dominant win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2.

Witherspoon finished the game with five tackles, while also recording two pass breakups. One of those could have been an interception, which would have been his second on the year after his pick six in Week 1. And while the ball fell to the ground and Witherspoon foolishly kicked it into the stands for a penalty, it's hard to criticize that part of the cornerback's game after yet another solid outing.

Overall, San Francisco held Cincinnati's top receiver, John Ross, to 112 receiving yards. But 66 of those yards came on a garbage-time touchdown late in the fourth quarter, and Witherspoon was no longer in coverage by that point.

"He's playing fantastic football and he deserves everything that comes his way," veteran cornerback Richard Sherman told reporters after the game. "Just as much negative attention you [the media] were giving him, nothing personal, obviously. Some of it was merited. Some of it I don't think was merited. But he deserves all the positive attention he'll be getting.

"I don't think he's concerned with it. I think he learned to be self-aware and self-motivated, and that's going to benefit him down the road."

After one week, PFF dished out an 80.8 grade for Witherspoon, which ranked among San Francisco's leaders at Tampa Bay. While the penalty will likely cut into his grade after Week 2, it's still going to stay fairly high.

Witherspoon's play also allowed the 49ers to keep veteran cornerback Jason Verrett inactive for the game. Verrett, who doesn't play nickel or on special teams, is primarily a reserve to both Sherman and Witherspoon.

With the latter's performance over the first two weeks, it could be tough for Verrett to see much of the field, barring injuries.

"He's just staying within himself and his game," Sherman continued. "And he's having a great time out there, and it's fun to see."
  • Peter Panacy
  • Written by:
    Peter Panacy has been writing about the 49ers since 2011 for outlets like Bleacher Report, Niner Noise, 49ers Webzone, and is occasionally heard as a guest on San Francisco's 95.7 FM The Game and the Niners' flagship station, KNBR 680. Feel free to follow him, or direct any inquiries to his Twitter account.

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