FanPost

A Prospective 2018 Roster ... Part I

Several days ago Ron-Mexico wrote a FanPost entitled "Offseason Scenario Yay or Nay" in which he mused about possible actions in the upcoming off-season that could improve the Niners' fortunes next year and beyond. I started to write a comment to Ron's article but then realized that it would be too lengthy. So, alternatively, I've decided to write my own FanPost on the subject. Typical of me, the more I thought about it the further I went. Finally, I decided just to do the whole 9 yards.

Management actions in any situation are always limited by the amount of information known at the time that the decision is made. Frequently we second-guess ourselves as additional information becomes available ... as if expecting that somehow we should have been clairvoyant enough to have known that information before. But that's not the way that it works ... we're never going to have all of the information that we'd like to have before having to make the decision. You simply go with what you have and hope that you can take appropriate corrective actions when more information becomes known. With respect to trying to project what the 2018 roster will look like there's a hell of a lot that we don't know:

  • Present Niners Roster: It will likely change between now and the end of the season. And, there are 12 guys on the present poster whose contracts expire at the end of this season ... who, if anybody, will be extended mid-season or not? Because of the youth of the current roster, player performance levels may change significantly by then, which could change our view of "needs".
  • Potential Free Agents: While we do know who potential free agents will be (again, those with contracts expiring at the end of this season), we don't know who will be extended between now and then and, thus, who the real available free agents will be.
  • Draft Prospects: While we know who the college seniors are it's the underclassmen who frequently dominate the earlier rounds of the draft. But we don't know which underclassmen will declare for the draft and which won't. Further, performances during this collegiate season will likely change prospect rankings significantly before and after the Combine next spring.
  • Drafting Position: Where will the Niners be drafting? We don't know ... so I'll make an assumption. I expect that the Niners will finish this season with three or fewer wins so will be drafting in the top 3. I hope that I'm wrong, but that would seem a reasonable assumption based upon current performance and the remaining schedule.
  • Draft Pick Trades: Anything is possible. But just to keep things interesting, let's propose a couple of draft-pick trades:

Niners trade Pick #1/3 (value 2200) and a late pick to somebody wanting a shot at a top QB in exchange for Pick #1/5 (value 1700) plus Pick #2/37 (value 530)

Niners trade Pick #2/37 from above (value 530) plus Pick #2/42 from New Orleans last year (value 480) in exchange for Pick #1/16 (value 1000)

This would leave the Niners with the following picks in the first 3 rounds: #1/5, #1/16, #2/35, #3/67 and #3/69

With so many unknowns one could question why even bother with this exercise at all. Pretty simple ... because it's fun to dream about what could be. So, I'll just go with what we know today and change it when we have updated information before next spring. Accordingly, this is a projection of what I would do next spring, given what we know right now ... which of course assumes that what we do know now is still valid then (it won't be). For purposes of reasonable reading length I will break the article into two parts ... the offense and the defense. Let's start with the defense.

NOSE TACKLE (2)

Present Roster: Earl Mitchell, DJ Jones

This one is simple ... I see no need for change here for next season.

2018 Projected Roster: Earl Mitchell, DJ Jones

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DEFENSIVE TACKLE (2)

Present Roster: DeForest Buckner, Xavier Cooper

Practice Squad / IR: Ronald Blair, Chris Jones

Gone: Chris Jones

It's certainly conceivable that Blair could supplant Cooper, but the odds are against it.

2018 Projected Roster: DeForest Buckner, Xavier Cooper

2018 Practice Squad: Ronald Blair

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BIG END ... STRONG SIDE (2)

Present Roster: Solomon Thomas

Practice Squad / IR: Tank Carradine (contract expires after season)

It would seem that Tank had finally found his position and was playing well before he was injured. I think that he will return in the second half of the season, continue to play well, and will have his contract extended ... IF he and his agent don't want excessive money; I don't think that the Niners would be willing to pay big bucks for Tank, given his history, so price will be the issue. For now, let's assume that they can work it out.

I'm not convinced that playing Arik Armstead at the Leo position has been a success. Big End would seem to be his more natural position.

2018 Projected Roster: Arik Armstead, Tank Carradine

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LEO END ... WEAK SIDE (3)

Present Roster: Arik Armstead, Elvis Dumervil, Aaron Lynch (contract expires after season)

Gone: Aaron Lynch ... work-ethic and injury issues have been a problem and Lynch's play has simply been too inconsistent throughout his tenure; consequently, Lynch would likely only have his contract extended IF he demonstrated substantial improvement and consistency this season; that doesn't seem to be happening so I don't think that we'll see Lynch return next season.

Projected Draftee: The 2018 Edge draft class is strong and deep. I would project selecting an Edge prospect in the second round at Pick #35. Prospects available there could include Josh Sweat (Florida State), Duke Ejiofor (Wake Forest), or Da'Shawn Hand (Alabama).

Wildcard Possibility: There are two possible Edge-rusher free agents that I would consider signing IF they were to actually become free agents (I expect both to be extended by their present clubs): Ziggy Ansah (Detroit) and DeMarcus Lawrence (Dallas). If either could actually be signed, he would replace Elvis Dumervil in the projected roster.

2018 Projected Roster: Solomon Thomas, Elvis Dumervil, 2018 2nd-round draftee

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STRONG-SIDE LINEBACKER (2)

Present Roster: Eli Harold, Dakota Watson, Pita Taumoepenu

Practice Squad / IR: Noble Nwachukwu, Donavin Newsome, Jimmie Gilbert

Gone: Eli Harold, Donavin Newsome, Jimmie Gilbert

Projected Draftee: Given the other needs, I don't see SAM as being a major focus in the upcoming draft. However, I could see selecting Peter Kalambayi (Stanford) with a late round pick. SAM could be a major focus in the 2019 draft.

Maybe I'm crazy but I see Pita T. as a comer ... he has the talent and the motivation; I think that he is potentially better suited to the SAM position than LEO. He needs good coaching and an opportunity to learn. I don't think that Lynch/Peters selected Pita as a "throw in".

2018 Projected Roster: Dakoda Watson, Pita Taumoepenu

2018 Practice Squad: Peter Kalambayi, Noble Nwachukwu

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WEAK-SIDE LINEBACKER (2)

Present Roster: Reuben Foster, Ray-Ray Armstrong, Elijah Lee

Practice Squad / IR: Malcolm Smith

Gone: Ray-Ray Armstrong

Given Bowman's physical limitations, I believe that Reuben Foster will be moved to the Mike linebacker position for the 2018 season.

2018 Projected Roster: Malcolm Smith, Elijah Lee

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MIDDLE LINEBACKER (2)

Present Roster: NaVorro Bowman, Brock Coyle (contract expires after season), Mark Nzeocha

Gone: Brock Coyle

I absolutely hate to say this, but I believe that Bow's days as a starter are coming to an end ... the cumulative effect of the injuries have slowed him down and he's beginning to miss tackles that he used to make routinely. I think that he can still contribute (and teach) but his playing time must be reduced AND he is far too expensive to spend a lot of time on the bench (not to mention the blow to his pride). Accordingly, I think that Reuben Foster becomes the starter at the Mike linebacker position beginning next year.

With the addition of younger players for special teams duty, I don't think that Coyle gets extended.

2018 Projected Roster: Reuben Foster, NaVorro Bowman

2018 Practice Squad: Mark Nzeocha

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STRONG SAFETY (2)

Present Roster: Eric Reid (contract expires after season), Jacquiski Tartt

Practice Squad / IR: Chanceller James

There have to be concerns about Reid's concussion and injury history; when he plays he usually plays pretty well (better at SS than at FS) and is certainly one of the leaders on the team. With Tartt and James in the background, whether Reid gets an extension or not may depend largely upon price ... just how much he and his agent want to re-sign; given his durability issues, I don't think that the Niners will be willing to give Reid a huge-dollar extension. For now, let's assume that they can work it out.

2018 Projected Roster: Eric Reid, Jacquiski Tartt

2018 Practice Squad: Chanceller James

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FREE SAFETY (2)

Present Roster: Jimmie Ward, Lorenzo Jerome, Adrian Colbert

Practice Squad / IR: Don Jones

Projected Draftee: Derwin James (Florida State) ... Pick #5 in the first round of the 2018 draft

This one may be a shocker. I think that we all realize the the single-high free safety position (in addition to having competent CBs) is the key to Saleh's defensive scheme. Although everyone will not agree, I believe that Jimmie Ward is simply not cut out to excel at this position and, at $8 million per year, he is far too costly unless he does perform at the excellent level. We have to do better at this position if we expect to be a consistent playoff contender.

Ward is 5'11" / 193# / 4.59 speed. Derwin James is 6'3" / 213# / <4.5 speed / 41" vertical. James can cover like a corner, hit like a linebacker, and has incredible instincts. "There's no comparison for James ... he's the closest thing I've ever seen to Sean Taylor". John Lynch knows a freak safety when he sees one ... and James is it. Yes, I'd love to pick Josh Rosen or Mason Rudolph in the early first round, but if you're going to sign a free agent QB it simply doesn't make sense to also spend a top-3 pick on a QB prospect IMO. James is a generational prospect, would be a substantial upgrade to our defensive backfield, and will make an immediate impact. You simply can't afford to skip on those kind of guys if you're trying to build a consistent winner.

Gone: Jimmie Ward ... unless they opt to move him back to CB; but, I don't think that that is a good idea ... he simply doesn't fit the mold of the kind of big press-coverage corner that this defensive scheme calls for.

2018 Projected Roster: Derwin James, Lorenzo Jerome

2018 Practice Squad: Adrian Colbert

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CORNERBACK (6)

Present Roster: Rashard Robinson, Dontae Johnson (contract expires after season), K'Waun Williams, Ahkello Witherspoon, Asa Jackson

Practice Squad: Jarnor Jones, Will Redmond, Prince Charles Iworah

Gone: Dontae Johnson, Asa Jackson, Prince Charles Iworah

In his 4 years with the Niners Johnson has been mediocre at best; he just doesn't seem to get any better regardless of how much playing time he gets; he is not a starting-caliber NFL CB IMO; I don't think that he will get a contract extension. Jackson and Iworah? We can do better.

Projected Free Agent: There will be a number of mid-level free agent cornerbacks available in the off-season. Adding a 26- to 28-year-old veteran with starting experience into the mix would be helpful IMO. Possibilities (in alphabetical order) could include: Justin Bethel (Arizona), Malcolm Butler (New England), Morris Claiborne (Jets), Kyle Fuller (Chicago), or Devon House (Green Bay). Given the number of young CB prospects on the roster, I do not think that it makes sense to pursue a Tramaine Johnson ($17 million/year) or Vontae Davis ($10 million/year).

Projected Draftee: Quenton Meeks (Stanford) ... in the middle rounds of the 2018 draft

2018 Projected Roster: Rashard Robinson, K'Waun Williams, Ahkello Witherspoon, Will Redmond, 2018 free agent, Quenton Meeks

2018 Practice Squad: Jarnor Jones

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So that's it for the defense ... another 20% turnover of the 25-man defensive squad. Projected to be gone are Lynch, Harold, Armstrong, Coyle and Ward. Or, that's a projected combined 68% turnover of the defensive roster since the Lynch/Peters/Shanahan regime began. Only Armstead, Bowman, Buckner, Carradine, Redmond, Reid, Robinson and Tartt would remain from Baalke's era.

In Part II of the article, published in a few days, I'll project my 2018 offensive roster.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Niners Nation's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Niners Nation's writers or editors.