The San Francisco 49ers wrapped up their offseason workout program last week. I was able to attend OTAs and minicamp, and wanted to take a broader look at who stood out in the program. It’s a year of transition for every member of the the 49ers, meaning both players and the entire staff. Rookies are adjusting to the league, veterans are acquainting themselves to new schemes and personnel, and the coaching staff is busy analyzing how the skills of each player will be utilized. Who is most likely to acclimate with a seamless transition? Who might have more of a challenge? Let’s start with a look at the rookies.
DE DeForest Buckner, unlike most of the other rookies, has come to a team where there are several familiar faces from his past. He was previously coached by DL coach Jerry Azzinaro at Oregon, he was recruited by Chip Kelly, and has played in a similar scheme. Buckner is also a lineman whose incredible talent and ability will be less of a leap when adjusting to the NFL. Because Buckner graduated before rookie minicamp, he was able to attend all of the OTAs as well as minicamp. He worked with the 2s and 3s throughout the offseason.
OL Joshua Garnett is also a very talented player but, unlike Buckner and the rest of the rookies, had not graduated or finished school at the time of OTAs. He has another quarter that he will finish in the spring. This kept Garnett from participating in OTAs. He was able to attend rookie minicamp as well as mandatory minicamp but essentially missed three weeks of work with his new team. Garnett’s intelligence is on his side, as well as being a player in the Pac-12, as he’s seen this system before.
CB Will Redmond, the 49ers 3rd round pick, has yet to work out with the team. GM Trent Baalke believes that Redmond will be ready come training camp, but rehabbing from an ACL injury isn’t an exact science. He has been in attendance at practice and in the classroom which is always plus but he hasn’t been able to get on the field. His adjustment to the NFL could take some time though his natural ability could be an advantage.
DB Rashard Robinson has already made an impression on some of the players on the team. Quinton Patton and Bruce Ellington, who he had been covering (and others) in camp, have already started a healthy rivalry with the rookie. Robinson, who admits he’s a talker, may have met his match in Patton who has, and will continue to talk back. All of the back and forth is a good sign that the rookie is coming along well in his transition. If they weren’t giving him a hard time, it would cause concern.
DL Ronald Blair may not have size as an advantage but he does have a coach that will get everything possible out of him. The 6’2 defensive end is a bit shorter than what you normally see at that position but that may make his other qualities come to the forefront. He has quietly been adjusting to the possibility of being in new roles on the defensive line.
OL John Theus was getting some work with the 1s on last day of minicamp which probably is a good sign for the rookie. There are obviously a lot of questions regarding the offensive line which really won’t be answered until training camp when players are wearing pads.
OL Fahn Cooper, like Theus, could be fighting for playing time on the offensive line. OL coach Pat Flaherty has been impressed with his physical abilities but like most of the group, is not in top football shape due to combine and pro day preparation. What Cooper and the rest of the OL does during the six week break will really determine who will be on the field come September.
QB Jeff Driskel is an incredibly gifted athlete, much like Colin Kaepernick, but he has been described as a raw talent. With three QBs above him on the roster, it is doubtful that he will see playing time other than during the preseason, However, he may be carving out a role for himself on special teams. His value as a tool in a fake punt situation could serve him well.
RB Kelvin Taylor has gotten some solid playing time in during OTAs and minicamp. It has mostly been with the 2s and 3s but his versatility and ability to catch passes should secure his spot.
WR Aaron Burbridge has not played in the slot but every team that was interested in him during the draft had plans for him to do just that. He was a favorite target for Thad Lewis and Jeff Driskel during minicamp and his hands are what could carry him forward on the team. His ability to grow as a blocker and slot receiver will help him hold value. He had several great catches, one in traffic on day 2 of minicamp as well as a TD on day 3 thrown by Driskel.
CB Prince Charles Iworah may not have been as dynamic as Robinson during OTAs and minicamp but did have a solid introductory session with the 49ers. He worked mostly with the 2s and the 3s and was one of the players wearing light weight MMA boxing gloves to keep him from holding. He is in one of the positions with the most competition so he will need to work to keep his spot.
UDFAs with a solid chance:
OL Alex Balducci has impressed coaches and players with his quickness of picking up the scheme.
WR Devon Cajuste has made some nice plays with his large catch radius. Being from the Pac-12 helps with familiarity.
WR Bryce Treggs has done a lot of work with special teams especially fielding returns. His multiple abilities may be an advantage.
K John Lunsford made several FGs during minicamp including one over 60 yard long. He will likely be the PS leg.
Up next we will discuss the underclassmen, what they have done during OTAs and minicamp, and what they need to do to make their mark in Santa Clara.