Fooch's note: This is a solid write-up looking at each of the position
The off season is over. Nothing (good) will happen in 49ers land before July 30th when training camp starts. However, with the mini-camp and OTAs concluded we can take stock of the 89 players on the roster and speculate on where they will land (or won't land) on the depth chart. To help us figure that out I'll refer to past performance, draft pedigree, press conference fodder and practice reports. This is a team in flux and really in many of these cases we are left with little but our best guess. But why not guess?
First of all Jeff Driskel is a project- probably destined for the practice squad. Thad Lewis is a camp arm. Barring injury neither will likely make the 53. Now we've heard from Colin Kaepernick and we've seen Blaine take control of the first team offense. Conflicting reports favor one or the other. I'm guessing that the pro Blaine rumors are coming out of the front office while an un-named source states that Chip likes Colin. That is consistent with what the relevant parties have publicly said. Chip has consistently praised Colin's work ethic, knowledge of the offense and decision making. Blaine is apparently a better athlete than the coaches expected.
Neither particularly distinguished themselves in mini camp. It was a minor upset that Colin played as much as he did and Blaine had good days and bad days. Colin handled the media scrum with aplomb and appears more relaxed, looser and skinnier. He owned his poor play last year and paid lip service to the suggestion that he was too jacked, too tight. On the other hand Blaine is a natural leader, the team has embraced him and if you think about it he has the most to lose and gain. Let's face it, if Blaine loses his starting role he is unlikely to get more than veteran minimum contracts in the future. He could be picked up to be a backup somewhere but this is his last shot at a starting role. Colin has fallen far from the lofty peaks of his hey day. But if RG3 can get a 5 M dollar deal from Cleveland after the dumpster fire he left in DC, Colin will get another shot somewhere.
I believe Chip will let this battle play out in the preseason but Colin has the edge in talent. If you take everything Chip has said at face value I think he's expecting Colin to win the starting job.
Before the hitting starts in training camp, running backs are impossible to evaluate. Carlos Hyde is the clear #1. He's slimmed down and he's shown good hands in mini camp. Behind him there's a log jam. Mike Davis has the best draft pedigree and the worst stats. I also don't think he's a great fit for Chip's system. Shaun Draughn beat expectations last year and our new Offensive coordinator, Curtis Modkins, has praised his professionalism and compared him favorably to Theo Reddick, a break out star in Detroit last year. I think Draughn is the early favorite to be rb #2. DuJuan Harris was excellent against Saint Louis last year in week 17. He's got some explosiveness about him, good hands and a low center of gravity. Kelvin Taylor is the late round rookie who could make Mike Davis lose his job. He is a good fit to chip's system and his college tape is intriguing- but so was Mike Davis'. Davis vs Taylor will work itself out in camp and the preseason.
Torrey Smith was 1 of the break out "stars" of the off season. He's embraced his role as the veteran leader and every practice report included his highlights. Bruce Ellington is the other receiver that has been universally praised by team mates and beat writers, he's also a natural fit to Chip's offense. My only concern about Bruce is his durability. Quinton Patton would be next in line by seniority but frankly his stock hasn't risen like Bruce's. The fiery receiver has flashed game breaking talent previously but he was working through an arm injury earlier and didn't distinguish himself in practice according to reports. Deandre Smelter has worked himself back on the field after taking a medical red shirt as a rookie. Unfortunately he's developed another supposedly minor injury (a hamstring issue that should be resolved before Camp). For Smelter camp and preseason will be important. Meanwhile Aaron Burbridge and Eric Rogers have been frequently praised by team mates and reporters. Burbridge reportedly has excellent hands while Rogers height and catch radius are unmatched on the roster. Last years udfa darling, DeAndrew White has been very quiet. Supplanting him for dark horse roster candidate are Bryce Treggs, Dres Anderson and DiAndre Campbell. Another player that turned heads from the udfa pool was Devon Cajuste. However he's apparently been hobbled by a minor injury. Jerome Simpson is also still on the roster and has been mentioned positively at least once.
If I was to order the wr depth chart at this point I would place Torrey Smith and Bruce Ellington as the clear leaders. Afterwards it's a total scrum with Patton, Rogers, Smelter and Burbridge the favorites.
Vance Mcdonanld had a strong off season. One beat writer praised his hands, claiming he had no drops. Vance has definitely been one of the most disappointing draft picks after AJ Jenkins so while I'd love to see him flourish he's failed us too often to be counted on. Garrett Celek broke out last year as much as anyone in that abysmal offense but was quiet in mini camp and OTAs. Bruce Miller is now a te and he was apparently a very popular target during the off season. The players and coaches showered him with praise but I did notice he was credited with multiple drops. I also wonder whether he can perform the inline blocking duties. However, based on the early chatter he has to be considered a strong candidate to make the 53. Blake Bell had a decent mini camp and garnered some positive notes on his hands. The only other te I read about is Je'Ron Hamm. He was on the receiving end of some Kaepernick passes. Busta Anderson meanwhile was very quiet. Vance, Celek and Miller look like the top tes right now with Bell not far behind.
Joe Staley, Zane Beadles and Daniel Kilgore are the starters from left tackle to center. Rookie Joshua Garnett missed most of the off season as he completed his course work but when he did arrive Chip praised his preparation. That leaves right tackle as the lone unsettled position. Pears started mini camp at tackle but on day 2 was supplanted by human mountain Trent Brown. Unfortunately for Brown's many fans he's reportedly out of shape and suffered a minor injury on day 3. This will work itself out in camp when you can actually evaluate the lines but Brown's conditioning is definitely a concern. Brandon Thomas was a beneficiary of Garnett's late graduation but Andrew Tiller has been a better player to this point in their careers. The rookies, John Theus and Fahn Cooper have reportedly handled themselves well this far. Theus has a fighters chance of beating Brown and Pears. Marcus Martin is now firmly entrenched as the 2nd team center and unless he takes a huge step forward might never start again after last year's showing. There are several other names on the roster: Colin Kelly, Alex Balducci and Ian Silberman being the most notable.
Arik Armstead is another player who has added muscle. Rookie Deforest Buckner was praised by beat writers for his work in drills and his physique. Obviously interior lineman don't have much of an impact in non contact practices. Quintin Dial is now a veteran leader. Glenn Dorsey and Ian Williams are both rehabbing. Williams was so good last year but looks to miss substantial time to an injury. Ronald Blair is a very exciting rookie but with this much depth I wonder at how many snaps he'll get. Tony Jerod-Eddie is solid depth but might be a cut candidate with this many heralded lineman. Mike Purcell was a monster last preseason and since he's a true nose tackle he has a real shot at making the 53. The real log jam is at DT: Buckner, Armstead, Dial, Dorsey, and Blair all looking to fill two starting roles.
NaVorro Bowman is the heart and soul of this defense. He's reportedly feeling better 1 more year removed from his knee injury and moving very well. Next to him it's a three way race between Michael Wilhoite, Gerald Hodges, and Ray-Ray Armstrong. Hodges has the most talent but last year he suffered some mental lapses. Ray-Ray's stock is definitely rising and Wilhoite is a lock to at least make the team. Besides Bowman none of these guys are likely to be stars and I suspect the 2nd ILB will play less than the the 3rd Safety. Shane Skov returns for his 2nd year.
Aaron Lynch is already a secret star in the NFL. His sack numbers aren't astronomical but his pressures and qb hits were both among the league leaders. Ahmad Brooks is entering year 3 or 4 of "he's gonna get cut" watch. He's still here and statistically speaking he was decent last year. He was dealing with an undisclosed injury this off season which I suspect was veteran-itis. Eli Harold wins the "most bulked up" prize this year and he needed it. We're all hoping that he wins the starting job from Brooks. Another popular break out candidate is Tank Carradine who has switched positions in hopes of jump starting his once heralded career. He pulled a reverse Eli by shedding weight. Corey Lemonier is still on the team. I didn't hear his name this off season and he's in a real now or never year. Marcus Rush, and Nick Bellore are both working to crack the roster after showing up in the last preseason.
A major story line of the off season is that Jimmie Ward is now a corner. I welcome this transformation even if I still remember his struggles against Brandon Marshall as a rookie. Jimmie has emerged as something of a leader this year and from interviews we've learned he's a very cerebral, film junkie guy. Tramaine Brock had a good offseason if you listen to the coaches and a rough 1 if you read practice reports. He's entrenched as a starter. Dontae Johnson had a good year last year but is dealing with an injury now. Keith Reaser was bad one day and great the next. I didn't hear much about Kenneth Acker. Chris Davis was promoted to starting nickel but struggled before tweaking an ankle. Rookie Rashard Robinson made some noise but also had some rough days. Will Redmond is still in rehab. Prince Charles Iworah was the beneficiary of some praise from coaches and reporters. So many names here (plus Marcus Cromartie)... I'm still quite nervous about our CB talent.
Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea are the unquestioned leaders. Bethea, after Bowman, is often mentioned by Chip and his staff. Tartt was a break out star as a rookie but has been quiet this off season... On the plus side I guess he wasn't frequently burned. His physical style is also not going to pop in the non contact part of the year. I'm hoping he plays more than any of the inside linebackers not named Bowman. Our best defensive back field for passing downs might be Bethea, Reid, Brock, Ward, and Tartt. 4 of those guys are nominally safeties.
Thats my run down. Tell me where I'm off or who I missed.