The San Francisco 49ers have a lot of players looking to earn roster sports or move up the depth chart as they kick off their preseason on Sunday. The team’s 11 draft picks include some players who could be in the starting lineup when Week 1 rolls around, and others who are fighting for a roster spot. I thought we’d take a look at where things stand for each of them heading into the preseason opener. We’ll do something similar with the UDFAs, but for now, we’re focusing on the draft picks.
And one note before getting started: Most rookies have to prove themselves on special teams, no matter what their other role. I’ve addressed special teams when it is particularly notable.
DT DeForest Buckner
The 49ers started Buckner on the third string in OTAs and minicamp, but he has climbed into first unit work in training camp. The team has alternated him with Mike Purcell on base defense looks, with Quinton Dial moving over to nose tackle when Buckner comes on. This weekend, my guess is we see him primarily in the nickel, but it will be interesting to see how the team rotates Buckner, Dial, and Purcell.
OG Joshua Garnett
He missed OTAs due to Stanford’s final exam schedule, and subsequently joined the third team offense at right guard. He moved up to second team right guard earlier this week, and has also gotten a bit of left guard work. Andrew Tiller and Zane Beadles are currently the first team guards. My guess is Garnett is the first guard off the bench on Sunday.
CB Will Redmond
He spent OTAs and minicamp rehabbing his knee, but was a participant in practice when training camp started. He is competing with Chris Davis and Keith Reaser for the nickel back role, and got some first team reps on Thursday. I think we see the three of them rotate into the position to get fairly even reps on Sunday.
CB Rashard Robinson
The self described fast, long, rangy dude has been impressing in camp, although there are some concerns about his aggressiveness. Sunday will be interesting for him to see how he handles receivers when officials are throwing flags. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up with a couple penalties for getting too hands-y. Tramaine Brock and Jimmie Ward seem locked in at the two starting outside cornerback spots, so my guess is they play very limited snaps. That leaves a lot of work for Robinson and others.
DT Ronald Blair
You wanna talk about flexibility? Blair is getting work all over the line, including some nose tackle work and edge rush work. Joe Staley said he was among those impressing, and expectations are high heading into the preseason opener. I would not be surprised if Quinton Dial and Arik Armstead did not play a ton of snaps on Sunday. That could open up opportunities for Blair.
OT John Theus
OL Fahn Cooper
These guys are going to remain linked for the time being in my mind. Theus has practiced primarily at the two tackle spots, while Cooper has worked at right tackle and right guard. Theus could end up with the bigger opportunity on Sunday. We don’t know if Joe Staley will play, but even if he does, it won’t be very many snaps. Erik Pears missed Thursday’s practice, so if he is unable to go on Friday, that could mean a whole lot of left tackle snaps to be had for Theus.
QB Jeff Driskel
This got a little more interesting with Colin Kaepernick’s arm fatigue. Kaepernick did not participate in team drills on Thursday, and was limited again on Friday. His status for Sunday remains to be seen, but if he can’t go, that means a lot more work for the rest of the quarterbacks. Driskel has been getting solid reviews in recent days, so he could be the guy who benefits most from Kap’s absence.
Where it also gets interesting with Driskel is what kind of work he gets on special teams. The 49ers have used him in a variety of roles, and personal protector on the punt team is something we could see from him in the preseason. That kind of role could make fake punts more likely. They would still be a rare occurrence, but having a quarterback in there makes it interesting.
RB Kelvin Taylor
Carlos Hyde will get some work this preseason, but I suspect the team has him spend much of the games in bubblewrap. Shaun Draughn has been viewed as the primary backup, but there will be plenty of carries to go around on Sunday. It often seems like someone emerges as a preseason MVP among the running backs.
WR Aaron Burbridge
The 49ers have a large number of wide receivers competing for a limited number of roster spots. That being said, given Chip Kelly’s high volume offense, receivers should get plenty of work in the preseason. There has been talk he will get slot work, although he did not have much of that kind of experience in college. We’ll see where the team places him on Sunday.
CB Prince Charles Iworah
The 49ers have a lot of cornerbacks, which means Iworah’s best chance at a roster spot would likely be from an impressive showing on special teams. The coverage and blocking units can be all over the place in the preseason since there are so many players up and down the depth chart getting special teams work. Iworah could make a name for himself early with a standout performance.