With the preseason in full swing, I thought I'd try my hand at a roster projection. Snarky headline aside, I'm actually pretty confident in this projection given how stacked the 49ers are at most positions -- but I imagine I'll be proven wrong 2 or 3 (or 4 or 5 or 6) times when the actual roster comes out. Here's goes nothing:
53-MAN ROSTER PROJECTION
starters listed first, inactives in italics
QB (3) - Alex Smith, Colin Kaepernick, Josh Johnson
RB/FB (6) - Frank Gore, Bruce Miller, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James, Rock Cartwright, Brandon Jacobs (inactive due to Injury)
WR (6) - Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, Kyle Williams, Ted Ginn Jr., A.J. Jenkins
TE (2) - Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker
OL (9) - Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Jonathan Goodwin, Alex Boone, Anthony Davis, Leonard Davis, Daniel Kilgore, Joe Looney, Jason Slowey
DL (7) - Justin Smith, Isaac Sopoaga, Ray McDonald, Ricky Jean-Francois, Will Tukuafu, Demarcus Dobbs, Ian Williams
OLB (4) - Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks, Parys Haralson, Eric Bakhtiari
ILB (4) - Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Larry Grant, Tavares Gooden
S (4) - Dashon Goldson, Donte Whitner, C.J. Spillman, Trenton Robinson
CB (5) - Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown, Chris Culliver, Perrish Cox, Tramaine Brock
SPECIAL TEAMS (3)
Specialists (3) - David Akers, Andy Lee, Brian Jennings
PR/KR - Ted Ginn Jr., Perrish Cox, Kyle Williams, LaMichael James, Rock Cartwright
Tony Montana Squad - Bruce Miller, Rock Cartwright, Demarcus Dobbs, Eric Bakhtiari, Larry Grant, Tavares Gooden, C.J. Spillman, Trenton Robinson, Perrish Cox, Donte Whitner
LAST FIVE ON
Josh Johnson - There's obviously a good chance that Johnson ends up out of a job come the regular season, but I'd say he has a slight lead over Tolzien right now. While he may not be as good of a pocket passer, he's clearly a better fit for Harbaugh's scheme; if anything were to happen to Smith and CK, I have no doubt Johnson could orchestrate the run-and-gun offense that Roman seems to want to implement. We haven't seen his ceiling yet -- this is his first season with a real coaching staff (no offense, Raheem Morris), and he's still only 26 years old. Add in his history with Harbaugh, and I think Johnson should be considered the front runner for the QB3 position.
Jason Slowey - Slowey's inclusion on this list isn't mean as a statement on his play -- all the reports on him say he's been fine at camp, or at least as good as you would expect a rookie 6th round lineman to be. The problem is that he's the sixth best interior offensive lineman on a roster that only has three tackles. The 49ers can reasonably expect to hide him on the practice squad, and if they find a backup OT they like, I imagine that's where Slowey will end up.
Tramaine Brock - Over the course of two training camps, Brock has gone from the third-string CB to the probable fifth-string CB, and his play against the Texans did nothing to stop his slide. His strength has always been his tackling (which, to be fair, was also showcased in last night's game) but do the 49ers really need a tackling CB, given how good their safeties and linebackers are? I have Brock making the team now because there's no one else at training camp pushing him for the CB5 position. Once other teams start trimming their rosters, however, I wouldn't be surprised if Baalke goes out and finds a better CB prospect on the waiver wire.
Ian Williams - Williams is the third string nose tackle on a team that only fields a nose tackle about 60% of the time. That's not a great position to be in, regardless of the string of solid performances he's put together this preseason and the last. So what's keeping him on the roster? My guess is that he won't survive a trip to the waiver wire, and Baalke knows it. It also helps that the two players in front of him, Sopoaga and Jean-Francois, are both entering their contract years. If Jim Tomsula can turn him into a starting nose tackle before the 2013 season, Ian Williams saves the 49ers a lot of hassle and money this offseason.
Eric Bakhtiari - If Chewbakha keeps doing what he's doing, I imagine he's a lock to make the roster. His only real threat is the waiver wire -- will Baalke want to bring in a pass-rush specialist as an OLB backup to replace the jack-of-all-trades Bakhtiari? It's a possibility, but his long term potential as a cheaper, slightly younger version of Parys Haralson with special teams value makes Bakhtiari a player worth keeping around.
FIRST FIVE OFF
Scott Tolzien - It wouldn't surprise anyone if Tolzien beat out Johnson for the QB3 position; its possible that he's actually the frontrunner. He doesn't have the strongest arm, and he doesn't fit the description of Harbaugh's ideal QB, but he may simply be too talented for the 49ers to let go. Tolzien has two more games to force himself onto the roster, and you have to like his odds of doing so.
Konrad Reuland - It's hard to pass on the Garbage Man, who showed yesterday that he's got great hands and surprising speed. With the 49ers guaranteed to keep 6 running backs, 6 receivers, and 3 tight ends (with Dobbs being the third), Reuland seems a likely victim of the numbers game. If he gets to the practice squad, there's a good chance he ends up back on the 49ers roster before the end of the season.
Anthony Dixon - With LMJ and Jacobs injured, Dixon might make the roster as the seventh-string RB and a special teams ace. It's unclear who he would replace -- most likely the defense would lose another roster spot and shrink to 23 players, but he could also take Jacobs' roster spot outright. There's an outside chance the 49ers bring in another RB to fill the short-yardage role, but Dixon has more experience with the playbook and has shown that he can contribute on special teams.
Colin Jones - You could describe Jones as a safety, but at this point he's had more professional playing time at wide receiver than DB, and he will likely never see snaps at either position again. His real value is as a special teams ace. If Baalke likes his immediate value more than a less useful backup like Slowey or Williams, Jones has a shot at making the roster.
Mike Person - Person is just a stand in for a hypothetical 4th offensive tackle -- the 49ers look to be going into the season with one backup in Boone, who's also going to be on the field as the starting RG. I imagine Baalke wants more insurance at the position. Person has been the best tackle among the rest of the linemen (way to waste an opportunity, Kenny Wiggins) but Person could easily be replaced by a waiver wire addition before the beginning of the season.