A little over a month ago, the 49ers wrapped up their offseason workout program with OTAs. At the time we handicapped the 49ers position battles, breaking them down into offense, defense and special teams. The wrap of OTAs sent the team on the one true vacation time of the offseason, and the voiding of the Eric Wright trade means the position battles really have not changed.
That being said, I figured I would put together a quick list of all the position battles, along with my own basic prediction for each one. I'm sure I'll be plenty wrong, but this will provide something to look back on and point and laugh down the road. Feel free to make your own predictions.
Prediction: McCoy seems locked in as the primary backup to Colin Kaepernick. I'm going to go with the momentum and say Daniels claims the third string QB job. Kaepernick only has ten starts under his belt, but given what he did in that time, I think the 49ers will be more willing to go with a bit of a project at third string QB.
Backup Running Backs
Prediction: Assuming Hunter gets off the Active/PUP list and back to practice fairly quickly, I think he will get the description of "primary backup running back." That is the big X-factor at this point. Hunter has said he's ready to go, but if he remains on the PUP list for more than a couple days, it becomes tougher to tell what's up. In that case, James would get that backup description.
That being said, even if Hunter is 100%, James will get plenty of touches. Furthermore, as long as the three running backs are splitting up carries, I don't think we'll necessarily look at Hunter or James as the "primary backup". After those two, I think Dixon maintains that extra running back role. The fourth string running back has to prove themselves on special teams. Dixon is a proven commodity there, and also provides some depth at fullback. Hampton could prove himself on special teams, but that's a mystery for now, so I go with the proven commodity in this instance.
Prediction: I think Kyle Williams claims the starting nod opposite Anquan Boldin, although I also think that Quinton Patton will push hard for that role. A.J. Jenkins will claim the slot receiver job out of training camp. We've heard a broad mix of opinions about who will play what role. It is entirely possible Jenkins ends up starting opposite Boldin, so I'm going to keep this prediction relatively simple.
Mario Manningham will start the season on the Reserve/PUP list, and I think Ricardo Lockette claims the fifth wide receiver job, and I think Kassim Osgood claims a special teams role as the sixth receiver.
Prediction: Vance McDonald has to show he can effectively block, but I think he locks down the No. 2 tight end role.
Prediction: When Goodwin agreed to a salary cut, that likely just about locked him in. He has not declined in a skill to any point where it makes sense to go younger with Kilgore. I think Kilgore will remain the primary backup, and take over the job next season.
Prediction: This position almost got thrown up in the air with the addition of Eric Wright, but the voiding of the trade brings it back to where we were a week ago. This is the hardest to predict with the addition of Nnamdi to the mix. I think Tarell Brown will be starting on one side.
After that though, it's a tough call. I'm going to go out on a limb and say Chris Culliver claims the other starting job, Carlos Rogers handles the nickel work, and Nnamdi becomes a depth option outside, while Perrish Cox is a depth option at nickel. The 49ers kept five cornerbacks last year, with Tramaine Brock getting one spot. My prediction is that Brock loses his job with the addition of all the special teams talent. I think Marcus Cooper ends up on the practice squad.
Backup Outside Linebacker
Prediction: Parys Haralson will be the primary depth option at OLB, but when it comes to pass rushing downs, Corey Lemonier will be the one who serves as primary depth. My guess is the 49ers attempt to stash Cam Johnson on the practice squad.
Prediction: I think Eric Reid holds down the job by the end of camp. I suspect the 49ers will mix in Dahl, Spillman and maybe even Michael Thomas at free safety early in camp, but I just think they go sink or swim with Reid by the time the season rolls around. It will be interesting to see who gets first team free safety snaps in Week 1 vs. Week 2.
Prediction: Glenn Dorsey will claim the role, but this will be a closer battle than people might anticipate. Dorsey's roster spot is likely safe because he brings versatility along the line, but I think it will be a close battle for those nose tackle snaps. Additionally, as described below, the defensive line depth competition could impact this one if Williams is competing well with Dorsey.
Prediction: If Tank Carradine gets off the Active/NFI list sooner rather than later, I think he claims the bulk of the backup work along the defensive line. He can play inside and outside, and when healthy is an absolute force. If he does not come off the NFI list in the first week and a half or two of training camp, I think Glenn Dorsey will be that primary backup.
Demarcus Dobbs has managed to stick around for two seasons now, primarily as a special teams contributor, so this is really the training camp where he needs to prove himself as a reserve on the defensive line. I think the primary competition will be between Dobbs and Will Tukuafu. Tony Jerod-Eddie and Lawrence Okoye will be competing as well, but Dobbs and Tukuafu lead this one. Considering Dobbs is four years younger than Tukuafu, I am willing to give him the edge, but it will be close.
Participants: Kyle Williams, LaMichael James, Perrish Cox, B.J. Daniels
Prediction: The departure of Ted Ginn opens the door at punt returner. If Williams is activated off the Active/PUP list soon, he will have the edge. However, I think a full offseason of punt return work will allow LaMichael James to claim the job. He struggled mightily last preseason, but I'm basing this prediction off expected improvement.
Participants: LaMichael James, Kyle Williams, Quinton Patton, Ricardo Lockette, A.J. Jenkins, Kendall Hunter
Prediction: James grabbed the job from Ginn late last season, and did some solid work. I think he retains the job and becomes the 49ers primary return man. I think if Ricardo Lockette makes the team, we could also see him getting some work. However, James will be the primary guy.
Prediction: At some point the 49ers will go younger at long snapper. I think Jennings will hold off the competition at least one more year. The really interesting possibility would be the 49ers trying to stash McDermott on the practice squad. I don't expect it, but it would be a sign of more than just passing interest.