Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Breaking down the 49ers’ CB depth chart if Emmanuel Moseley can’t play vs. Eagles

Rohan Chakravarthi
Sep 18, 2021 at 1:30 PM--

The injury bug has hit the 49ers hard over the first week of the NFL season, especially in the secondary, as CB Jason Verrett is already ruled out for the season with a torn ACL and CB Emmanuel Moseley seems unlikely to play again in Week 2 vs Philadelphia.

Moseley, who was in uniform Friday, was listed as doubtful on the injury list for the game with a knee injury.

The injuries to the top corners on the team have prompted the 49ers to sign two new faces over the past two weeks: CB Josh Norman and CB Dre Kirkpatrick.

Norman was signed on September 6th and was listed as an inactive against the Lions in Week 1, although head coach Kyle Shanahan said that the corner was ready to play if needed. He is expected to take on a much larger role in Week 2 with the injury to Moseley.

With that said, let's predict the cornerback depth chart should Moseley not play against the Eagles this Sunday.

1. CB Deommodore Lenoir

If you had told me in May when the fifth-round defensive back out of Oregon was drafted that he would be the Week 2 starter for the 49ers, I would've laughed. He wasn't even the first corner drafted from the team, and was seen as a nickelback coming out of the draft, where K'Waun Williams occupied.

However, throughout the offseason and in preseason, Lenoir has impressed on the outside, which continued in Week 1, where Lenoir allowed just one target on 68 pass-coverage snaps over three targets, all while starting in his first NFL game.

With Verrett's injury, Lenoir should slide to the top cornerback on the 49ers depth chart and play an extensive role against Philadelphia, where he may match up against fellow rookie DeVonta Smith, based on schemes.

Moreover, the 49ers haven't been scared in playing the rookie in a crucial role, and that should continue against Philadelphia with Lenoir as CB1.

2. CB Josh Norman

Norman just signed with the team less than two weeks ago and was a healthy inactive last week.

Still, with the poor play of Dontae Johnson combined with the good week of practice from Norman, I expect that he starts Sunday's game opposite Lenoir as the CB2, although it certainly could be a rotation between him, Johnson, and third-round pick Ambry Thomas.

Norman certainly has experience as a starter, being a top player at the cornerback position in Carolina over the early years of his career.

While his play has tailed off over the later years of his career, his experience in multiple different schemes will benefit him as he joins the 49ers.

More importantly, Norman played with the Buffalo Bills last year, whose scheme was extremely similar to the current 49ers defensive scheme in that it revolved around the defensive line with a lot of zone coverage with either one or two high-safeties.

Familiarity is key here, and Norman's play over the last two weeks of practice, knowledge of the scheme, and the below-average play of Dontae Johnson last week makes the 33-year-old veteran a good choice for the starter opposite Lenoir Sunday.

On Saturday morning, Kyle Shanahan sat down with NBC's Matt Maiocco and when asked about the starters, the head coach highlighted Norman, rather than Johnson, giving an indication of who should start Saturday. He reiterated how Norman was ahead with his few good weeks of practice, while still holding out hope that Emmanuel Moseley could be healthy Sunday.

3. K'Waun Williams

This choice is the fairly easy one on the 49ers depth chart, as K'Waun Williams has been a top player at the nickelback position when healthy. He's been healthy this week and should resume that same role this Sunday.

His physicality and coverage-skills will be commanded Sunday as he faces the duo of Philadelphia tight ends in Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz, who have both been reliable pass-catching options when healthy for the team. The duo combined for six catches, 76 yards, and a touchdown last weekend against the Atlanta Falcons.

A key aspect to watch Sunday for Williams will be his communication with Norman, or whoever starts opposite Lenoir, should they match up on the same side of the field.

With a mobile quarterback in Jalen Hurts, Williams could also be involved with containing the quarterback as well as the linebacker corps, adding another responsibility to his plate Sunday.

Nonetheless, Williams should be the third starter along the cornerback group alongside Lenoir and Norman.

4. CB Dontae Johnson

It seems like he's Kyle Shanahan's favorite.

Johnson was the primary backup last week and took over for Jason Verrett after his ACL tear in the fourth quarter. Johnson didn't particularly play well, however, and was targeted on the outside three times, of which two were completions.

Still, his familiarity with the system and praise from Kyle Shanahan got him promoted to the active roster this week, where he should serve as a backup to Norman and Lenoir.

Johnson, who has struggled in coverage over the course of his career, could be relied on should another injury occur or in garbage time, where he will look to assert himself.

While talking with NBC's Matt Maiocco, Kyle Shanahan didn't mention Johnson when talking about the potential starting cornerbacks, focusing more on the injured Moseley, the rookie Lenoir, and Josh Norman instead.

Don't expect Johnson to start, but it wouldn't be unexpected, given the 49ers' penchant for playing the 29-year-old veteran.

5. CB Ambry Thomas

Thomas seems to mainly be a specialist for the 49ers for the beginning of the season, at least, while also serving as back-end depth at the defensive back position.

Still, I have Thomas over Kirkpatrick for the fifth corner on the depth chart because only one of the two have been with the team for the entirety of the offseason.

Thomas was the third-round pick for the 49ers in the 2021 NFL Draft, but Lenoir was the more-prominent rookie who flashed in the offseason, putting the fifth-round pick higher on the depth chart.

Thomas served as the team's kick returner last week, earning 70 yards off of four returns, but also played on nine defensive snaps, mainly during garbage time in the fourth quarter, where he gave up two catches for 24 yards.

Thomas still has work to do as a cornerback, but his specialist ability and familiarity puts him fifth on the list.

6. CB Dre Kirkpatrick

Kirkpatrick was the highlight of the week for the defensive back room as he was signed on Tuesday and put onto the team's 53-man roster.

Last week, in a similar scenario with Josh Norman, the 49ers elected to place him as a healthy inactive, but with concerns in the secondary due to Moseley's injury, the team could place the former Cincinnati Bengal and Arizona Cardinal on the 48-man game day roster.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan stated that while Kirkpatrick has had two good practices since being signed to the team, the veteran corner is about a week behind in terms of getting the system down, but didn't rule out his availability for Sunday with the depth concerns.

Last season, Kirkpatrick was a regular starter for the Cardinals, intercepting three passes and accumulating seven passes defended over 14 total games.

Don't expect Kirkpatrick to play much Sunday if he makes the 48-man roster, but look for him in consequent weeks should he compile several impressive practices in his given opportunities.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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