Can the San Francisco 49ers Actually Trust Nnamdi Asomugha?

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Can the San Francisco 49ers Actually Trust Nnamdi Asomugha?
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

A few years ago, Nnamdi Asomugha undoubtedly could have helped the San Francisco 49ers defense in a huge way. Now, after a catastrophic tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles, the 32-year-old corner is seen as a liability more than anything else. 

After being cut in March, the 49ers took a flier on Asomugha and signed him to a one-year contract that includes no guaranteed money.  

He didn't exactly thrive from the get-go in San Francisco. 

According to Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio gave the following review of Asomugha a week into training camp:

We really didn't now what we were getting when we got Nnamdi. He's had some good days out here and some days when we weren't sure if he'd be able to still have it. I think we're kind of in between on him right now.

Hopefully, he'll still be able to have some gas left in his tank to go out there and play like he did prior to going to Philadelphia. So I think the jury is still out there.

However, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) indicates that Asomugha has surrendered just one catch for five yards on 39 preseason snaps in pass coverage.

Apparently, his exhibition stinginess made an impression on San Francisco's coaching staff. 

According to Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle, the former Oakland Raider will be the 49ers' No. 3 cornerback at the start of the regular season. 

In today's NFL, that essentially means he'll be a starter in the secondary. 

"Fangio said Asomugha has overtaken Tramaine Brock for that role, which had been filled by Chris Culliver before he sustained a season-ending ACL tear in training camp," Branch wrote. 

With games against the aerially proficient Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons on the schedule this season, the 49ers' defensive backfield must be strong. 

With the No. 3 cornerback being much more vital today than it was in the past, let's examine whether or not the 49ers should trust Asomugha in that role in 2013. 

Let's start with his rather ghastly stint in the City of Brotherly Love.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Asomugha fell drastically short of expectations after signing a five-year, $60 million contract with $20 million guaranteed with the Eagles in 2011. 

Here's how Pro Football Focus (subscription required) graded him over the past two seasons:

Nnamdi Asomugha's 2011 and 2012 Seasons
PFF Rating (Ranking) Pass-Coverage Rating (Ranking) INT
2011 -5.8 (88) 1.3 (49) 3
2012 -7.9 (101) -7.3 (103) 1

ProFootballFocus

Man, not exactly encouraging.

The fact that Asomugha will not be asked to be the No. 1 cornerback in San Francisco will work in his favor. 

Here's a look at how the two 49ers cornerbacks ahead of him on the depth chart played in 2011 and 2012:

49ers Pass Coverage Ratings
PFF Rating (Ranking) Pass-Coverage Rating (Ranking) INTs
2011 Carlos Rogers 11.3 (11) 7.8 (11) 6
2011 Tarell Brown 3.1 (32) 2.9 (42) 4
2012 Carlos Rogers 2.1 (46) .6 (53) 1
2012 Tarell Brown 10.5 (4) 12.8 (4) 2

ProFootballFocus

Carlos Rogers is an established and rather reliable veteran whereas Brown is on the verge of breakout at his position. 

Bleacher Report's NFC West Lead Writer, Tyson Langland, recently profiled Brown and provided an interesting statistical tidbit from 2012.

"Despite being targeted 90 times by opposing quarterbacks, Brown only allowed 53 receptions for 719 yards. In addition, he didn’t surrender a touchdown pass during the regular season, and he led the 49ers with 14 passes defended," Langland wrote.

Getting back to Asomugha, San Francisco's pass rush could be integral to his revitalization in the Bay Area. 

Below is a comparison of how effectively the 49ers and Eagles pressured opposing quarterbacks over the past two seasons: 

Eagles vs. 49ers Pass-Rush Comparison
QB Hurries Sacks
2011 Eagles 213 52
2011 49ers 207 43
2012 Eagles 160 33
2012 49ers 151 41

Pro FootballFocus

The Eagles were actually better in some areas in 2011, but they weren't as disruptive in 2012, which corresponded with Asomugha's major regression.

Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks haven't gone anywhere. 

Will the 49ers be happy with Nnamdi Asomugha's play in 2013?

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One can expect that quintet to have a positive effect on Asomugha, as it has on the rest of the 49ers' secondary since 2011.

However, the 10-year veteran has to progress individually, which won't be easy this late in his NFL career.

Asomugha's vast struggles in Philadelphia should still be in fresh in the minds of the 49ers' coaching staff and fans. 

Then again, playing in a tertiary role on a defense that boasts one of the most intimidating fronts in all of football should mask most of his coverage deficiencies. 

The 49ers won't be able to lean on Asomugha in 2013, but the talent around him will allow the former Pro Bowl cornerback to play at an acceptable level on an elite defense.

 

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