Coming off a very strong finish in 2017, Ahkello Witherspoon was viewed as a building block for a young secondary. Witherspoon recorded 4 pass defenses, an interception and 10 tackles from week 14 to 16. His fine play was expected to continue into 2018 as he would play opposite Richard Sherman.
The third round pick stumbled out of the gate in 2018. Witherspoon surrendered more touchdowns (five) in seven weeks of 2018 than all of 2017 (three). Offenses regularly targeted Witherspoon and at times Akhello looked overwhelmed. Week 2 against the Lions saw Akhello get benched at the end of the game after giving up two scores. Dealing with injuries early in the year and a non existent pass rush didn’t help matters.
Witherspoon turned his season around with solid performances at the end of the year. Akhello was impressive in his last 6 contests. Per PFF, Witherspoon allowed eight receptions on 23 targets (35 percent) during his last four games. And didn’t allow a touchdown in coverage in his last six games, after allowing six in his first six contests. From week 10 until 12, he allowed a 48.6 passer rating as opposed to the 98.0 rating for the season.
The question becomes was his poor play to begin the season an outlier or the standard? Tarvarius Moore is the biggest threat to Witherspoon for playing time and both should compete in an interesting position battle in training camp. Head coach Kyle Shanahan and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh both spoke highly of Witherspoon’s aggressive play to close the season, so the staff is behind him. Akhello will have similar expectations on him going into 2019 but the potential addition of a pass rusher and his growth in the scheme have the organization hopeful that he can ascend to a foundational player.