Each year, we like to run a series of posts called "90-in-90." The idea is that we'll take a look at every player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few ways. This roster will certainly change, and some days we'll have more than one so it's not exactly 90 players in 90 days. At this point, it's a name we're keeping around for street cred.
Yesterday, we talked about an offensive UDFA in wide receiver Chuck Jacobs, and today we're back with a defensive UDFA in cornerback Darryl Morris. The 49ers signed Morris immediately after the 2013 NFL Draft, and initially appeared intent on stashing him for the year. Through the first two preseason games, Morris got 19 special teams snaps, and only one defensive snap. However, in the final two games, Morris got 27 defensive snaps and 21 special teams snaps. At the same time, seventh round pick Marcus Cooper's four week defensive snap count included 24, 25, 10 and 22 snaps. He had 8, 8, 2 and 15 special teams snaps during that period.
At the end of camp, both players were waived. Cooper was claimed by Kansas City Chiefs, while Morris cleared waivers and signed with the 49ers practice squad. The 49ers indicated they had hoped Cooper would clear waivers, but unfortunately it did not work out. People were displeased with this, while some were quick to overlook Morris. Of course, it was not exactly difficult to overlook Morris given that he was a UDFA and had cleared waivers after cuts.
Morris spent the first three weeks of the season on the practice squad, before getting promoting for Week 4. Morris was active the remaining 13 weeks of the regular season, as well as all three postseason games. According to this count I put together in January, Morris played 156 special teams snaps, and seven defensive snaps in the regular season.
I do not remember a single one of his defensive snaps, but I remember seeing him on special teams. Morris ran a 4.33 40 coming out of college, and he showed that it carried over to game speed, at least on special teams. This play against the Tennessee Titans is one I won't soon forget:
Why he might improve:
He showed he can perform quite well on special teams, which would seemingly get him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to roster competition. The 49ers have added several cornerbacks to the mix, but the group has enough question marks that there are spots to be won by younger players, like Morris. He accrued a season last year, and because he was active for more than eight games, he does not have practice squad eligibility. This will not be a case of the team trying to hide him in the preseason and slip him through waivers.
When we were breaking him down last offseason, scouting reports indicated he was a likely dime option initially. Morris will compete with him, and guys like Eric Wright and Perrish Cox for options. Given his speed and willingness to get physical on special teams, he very well could snap up the dime role.
Why he might regress:
I think the odds of regression are pretty slim, but it's possible he ends up being no more than a special teams player. He has not gotten a lot of opportunities at cornerback, so it's hard to say at this point that he can climb into that kind of role this year. I think it's less about "yes he would regress because of X, Y and Z" and more that we just need to see what he can actually do with more opportunities as a cornerback.
Odds of making the roster:
Given that he does not have practice squad eligibility, and he showed plenty of skill on special teams, I think his roster odds are very good. I won't go so far as to say he is a lock, but he is a strong bubble guy. He was getting some second team nickel work behind Perrish Cox, but even still, I could see Cox and Eric Wright battling for a roster spot alongside Morris. There were also some reports that Morris has been getting some return work. If he can develop into a return option, it only adds to his value.
The 49ers need to get a lot of cornerbacks work in the preseason, and I think Morris is one guy who will see a sizable chunk. If everyone is healthy at the start of the preseason, I could see him initially working in the second team dime role. From there, his practice and game performances will dictate how his opportunity will develop. At the very least, he looks like a strong special teams contributor.