Each year, we run a series of post called "90-in-90" here at Niners Nation. The idea is that we'll take a look at every single player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few different ways. This is to help give everyone a basic understanding of a roster. Of course, this roster will change, and some days we'll have more than one so it's not strictly one per day but you get the idea.
The San Francisco 49ers have an extremely talented nose tackle in the form of Ian Williams. He earned more playing time in sub packages last year, but this offseason, the big red mark on his career popped up again. Williams had to have surgery on his ankle, with reports suggesting multiple surgeries. He played an entire 16-game schedule, but the surgeries are a big concern.
Enter Mike Purcell. The 49ers signed Purcell as an undrafted free agent in 2013. He spent the 2013 season and most of the 2014 season on the practice squad. The team promoted him to the 53-man roster on December 19, 2014. He finished out the season on the roster, and then earned a spot on the roster in 2015 training camp. He was inactive for the 49ers first eight games, but then was quickly worked into the rotation in Week 9. He got his promotion into game-day action before Glenn Dorsey tore his ACL, but added further snaps after Dorsey got hurt. He finished the season with 15 tackles and one sack.
Experience: 3 seasons (2 on the practice squad, 1+ on the 53-man roster)
Weight: 303 lbs
Purcell signed a three-year deal when he was promoted from the practice squad in late 2014. He is entering the final year of that deal. If he makes the 53-man roster, he will have a base salary and cap hit of $525,000. He would then be an exclusive rights free agent after the season.
Why he might improve
Last year marked Purcell's first consistent playing time in the NFL (aside from the preseason). After sitting the first eight games, Purcell got more and more playing time over the final eight games. If he is going to take a step forward, it will be in part because of that significant opportunity. He did some good things in those eight games, and while he was not a star by any means, it was a step forward. He could see more playing time because of injuries to Ian Williams and Glenn Dorsey. If he can consistently get on the field, he could get a chance to put it all together.
Why he might regress
Purcell sometimes feels like one of those players that home team fans love, but also probably overrate. He's not a bad player, but it's possible we have seen his ceiling. Considering the 49ers are implementing the philosophy of a new coaching staff, it's hard to say what any of this means. However, Purcell can be re-directed at times, and so consistency is going to be something to watch.
Odds of making the roster
The 49ers added a lot of defensive line talent this offseason, drafting DeForest Buckner and Ronald Blair, and signing Demetrius Cherry and Darren Lake. Purcell is likely strong bubble at worst, and considering he is getting first team work in place of injured Ian Williams and Glenn Dorsey, I imagine some might argue he is a lock. His role this fall remains up for debate though. If both Williams and Dorsey are unable to play Week 1, I would be surprised if anybody but Purcell was the starting nose tackle. Darren Lake is talented, but I see him most likely spending this season on the practice squad. There is some suggestion of Quinton Dial at nose tackle. We could very well see that, but open practices have seen him at defensive end in the 3-4.
Purcell's playing time will be something to track once Ian Williams is healthy. Barring any setbacks, Williams would seemingly return to the starting nose tackle role. Purcell could find himself in a tough position competing for playing time at defensive tackle. The 49ers will need the depth given the injuries that have taken down Glenn Dorsey and/or Ian Williams in recent years. But once Williams (and then Dorsey) are healthy, what exactly is Purcell's role? Is he the new Tony Jerod-Eddie?