The Ukiah Daily Journal
A way-too-early 49ers 53-man (and practice squad) roster prediction
Depth is always a separator in the NFL’s game of attrition, but projecting out to the fall, depth might never be more important than in the 2020 season, thanks to Covid-19.
Luckily for the 49ers, they’re arguably the deepest team in the NFL.
And seeing as how there will unlikely be offseason workouts — and perhaps a truncated training camp as well — it hardly seems to aggressive to project the 53-man roster this far away from the season kickoff, whenever that might be.
Because, truth be told, we might not know more than we know now in a few months. Offensive Players — 24 *Base starters denoted by an asterisk QUARTERBACK (3) >> Jimmy Garoppolo*, Nick Mullens, C. J. Beathard
MISSING THE CUT >> Broc Rutter (PS)
The quarterback position is arguably the most important in all of team sports and we’ve seen in recent years the backup position — previously overlooked — take on some of that importance.
But now there’s a virus floating around that will sideline players for two weeks if they test positive. Backup quarterback has never been important.
As such, don’t expect the Niners to be bold on this front in 2020. If they couldn’t part with Beathard before the 2019 season, there’s no way they’ll split with him ahead of 2020. And while Mullens might be an interesting trade piece for San Francisco ahead of the season, the increased possibility of losing Garoppolo for multiple games likely means that No. 4 remains No. 10’s backup this season.
I like Rutter — he has some real Mullens-like qualities, and I can see him taking over as the No. 2 as soon as 2021, but I doubt that Shanahan goes with him over Beathard this season. He moves to the practice squad. RUNNING BACK (4) >> Raheem Mostert*, Kyle Juszczyk*, Tevin Coleman, Jerick McKinnon
MISSING THE CUT >> Jeff Wilson Jr. (PS), JaMycal Hasty (PS), Josh Hokit (PS), Salvon Ahmed
I don’t know how much play there will be ahead of the season, but if there is a full training camp, I expect this position to create plenty of debate.
Projecting out, there will be some that believe that Hasty and Wilson should supplant Coleman and McKinnon, but my bet is that Shanahan goes with the veterans. If the Niners were considering moving on from Coleman, they likely would have cut him before his $2 million roster bonus became guaranteed on April 1. As for McKinnon, Shanahan has not shown the ability to admit a sunk cost yet in his time in charge of the Niners — San Francisco re-signed the scatback this past offseason with the intention of finally getting him on the field in the regular season.
It seems ridiculous that Wilson would go back to the practice squad, and perhaps there is a team that will pick up his contract when he hits waivers, but the Niners would like to keep him in Santa Clara for emergency purposes. He could be a frequent game- day callup under the NFL’s new practice squad rules, which allow for two understudy players to be elevated to the now- 55-man roster on Sundays.
I bet the Niners like Hasty — the undrafted free agent out of Baylor who has great burst and bounce in the backfield — to stick around as a longterm project, too.
WIDE RECEIVER (6) >> Brandon Aiyuk*, Deebo Samuel*, Trent Taylor, Jalen Hurd, Kendrick Bourne, Dante Pettis
MISSING THE CUT >> Jauan Jennings (PS) Chris Finke (PS), Travis Benjamin, Chris Thompson, Richie James, Shawn Poindexter
The starters are clear — it’s Aiyuk and Samuel out wide in the 49ers’ “base” 21 personnel sets. When the Niners go to three wide receivers, I imagine there will be mixing and matching — Taylor fits the typical “slot receiver” role, Bourne could be inside or out with Samuel or Aiyuk in the slot, and Hurd — if healthy — is a matchup nightmare, capable of motioning to any wide receiver spot, fullback, running back, or tight end.
It’s Hurd’s tight end ability that might create a spot for Jennings on this squad. (More on that in a moment.) The rookie out Tennessee would be a “big slot” option who could be valuable in the red zone.
Pettis remains as a backup at split end. The Niners have clearly indicated they don’t want to give up on him just yet. His contract helps keeps him around, too.
Missing the cut would be undrafted free agent Chris Finke — a practice squad player who could return kicks in a pinch — Travis Benjamin and Richie James.
TIGHT END (3) >> George Kittle*, Charlie Woerner, Ross Dwelley
MISSING THE CUT >> Chase Herrell (PS), Daniel Helm
The Niners could go with two at this position, thanks to the versatility of Hurd. If a fringe wide receiver makes a late push and Dwelley doesn’t perform, do not count it out. Also, do not sleep on Harrell, the undrafted free agent out of Arkansas — he could make a camp push as a move tight end.
Rounding up the precarious situation for Dwelley, the Niners could pick up a veteran, blocking free agent at tight end to replace him in camp, as I expect Woerner — drafted as a blocking tight end — to surprise with his receiving ability in camp.
In this projection, he makes the roster, but it’s evident that after a season where he was an adequate but flawed fill-in at two positions, he isn’t guaranteed a spot on this loaded roster.
OFFENSIVE LINE (9) >> Trent Williams*, Laken Tomlinson*, Ben Garland*, Dan Brunskill*, Mike McGlinchey*, Colton McKivitiz, Justin Skule, Tom Compton, Shon Coleman PUP >> Weston Richburg MISSING THE CUT >> Ross Reynolds (PS), Kofi Amichia, Jake Brendel, Jared Jones-Smith, Leonard Wester
The Niners don’t like to be short of offensive linemen, and despite plenty of position versatility, my bet is that they carry nine on the 53-man roster. This is in part because the Niners don’t have a clear practice-squad offensive lineman (I doubt Skule makes it through waivers — the NFL is in desperate need of tackles), but also because Shanahan is still scarred from the 2017 game where Garrett Celek nearly needed to play tackle amid a series injuries up front.
There is only one clear position battle in whatever the preseason is: Brunskill vs Compton for the right guard position.
If Richburg, indeed, starts the season on the PUP list, that will allow for the Niners to keep both the loser of the right guard battle and swing tackle Shon Coleman on the roster — with either Compton or Coleman being cut ( but kept on speed dial) to bring the No. 1 center back into the fold.
Defensive Players – 26 DEFENSIVE LINE (10) >> Arik Armstead*, Javon Kinlaw*, DJ Jones*, Nick Bosa*, Dee Ford, Solomon Thomas, Kentavious Street, Darrion Daniels, Kerry Hyder, Kevin Givens
PUP >> Jullian Taylor, Ronald Blair
MISSING THE CUT >> Alex Barrett, Ray Smith, Jonathan Kongbo, Willie Henry
Another straightforward play for Shanahan and company. Taylor and Blair are coming off season- ending injuries which might keep them out into September. In their stead, Hyder, a defensive end, and Givens, a defensive tackle, make the squad. Upon Taylor and Blair’s returns, though, both will get the subsequent ax, with Givens likely going back to the practice squad.
Daniels, an undrafted free agent out of Nebraska, makes the team as a backup to Jones at 1-technique — a role held down by the departed Sheldon Day.
LINEBACKERS (6) >> Fred Warner*, Kwon Alexander*, Dre Greenlaw, Azeez Al-Shaair, Jonas Griffith MISSING THE CUT >> Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles (PS), Joe Walker, Mark Nzeocha
Walker and Nzeocha are veterans with tremendous special teams experience, and Griffith could no doubt go to the practice squad, but I’m betting that the undrafted free agent out of Indiana State is so wildly impressive in camp that he forces the 49ers’ hand. He’s a viable backup to Warner and has all the makings of being a special teams ace himself.
Keep an eye on Flannigan-Fowles, too. He was on the Niners’ practice squad last year — I expect him to return — but his versatility ( he’s a safety-linebacker hybrid who could play in the slot if needed) could see him land one as a practice squad player who is frequently promoted on game days.
CORNERBACK (6) >> Richard Sherman*, Emmanuel Moseley*, Ahkello Witherspoon, Tim Harris, K’Waun Williams*, D. J. Reed
MISSING THE CUT >> Dontae Johnson, Jason Verrett, DeMarkus Acy (PS), Jalen Tabor (PS), Jermaine Kelly
Harris, who missed last season because of injury, was cited often by the Niners as the reason why they didn’t go with a cornerback in this year’s draft. I expect him to be given every opportunity to make the 53-man roster, and I don’t expect too much trouble in beating out Johnson or Verrett. Tabor makes the practice squad, again, but Acy is the former SEC player who might see call-ups in the season.
Reed will also take on returning responsibilities this season.
SAFETY (4) >> Jimmie Ward*, Jaqusiki Tartt*, Tarvarius Moore, Marcell Harris
MISSING THE CUT >> Jared Malden (PS), Derrick Kindred, Chris Edwards
My bet is that Malden will make a push for Harris’ job, but as it will be easier for the Niners to move the undrafted free agent out of Alabama to the practice squad than it will be to get Harris through waivers. SPECIALISTS (3) >> Longsnapper Kyle Nelson*, kicker Robbie Gould*, punter Mitch Wishnowsky*
Gould is effectively uncuttable ($5.1 million in dead cap money stays on the Niners books if released), so don’t expect a switch at kicker this season.
Both Wishnowsky and Nelson proved their values last year. Write their names in with a pen.
It’ll be interesting to see if the Niners add a punter to the practice squad, though, in case of emergency. (My bet is that Tabor would be the odd man out in that situation.)