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49ers special teams: Better, worse, or same in 2017?

A position by position look at the San Francisco 49ers’ roster, and whether the team is better, worse, or the same as the 2016 roster. Other positions: QB | RBWR | TEOT | OG | C | DL | LB | CB | S

The San Francisco 49ers face a lot of questions surrounding their roster in 2017, with the new front office and coaching staff bringing numerous changes. It is going to take some time to figure out where this team stands. The team was incredibly active in free agency, and followed that with plenty of work in the 2017 NFL Draft.

With that in mind, I thought we would take a look at each position, compare it to various points last year, and consider whether the unit is better, worse, or the same compared to last year. The table includes the current group of players, and then a list of players on the 90-man roster for the first preseason game, the players on the Week 1 53-man roster, and the players on the Week 17 53-man roster. The idea is to compare this year with last year across the board. The roster changes from August to December, so I’m including three separate markers just to provide an overall view of the position last year.

We wrap things up today with special teams.

Special teams changes, 2016-to-2017

Current 2016 preseason 2016 regular season
Current 2016 preseason 2016 regular season
Bradley Pinion (P) Bradley Pinion (P) Bradley Pinion (P)
Robbie Gould (K) Phil Dawson (K) Phil Dawson (K)
Kyle Nelson (LS) Kyle Nelson (LS) Kyle Nelson (LS)
Bruce Ellington (Ret) Bruce Ellington (Ret) Jeremy Kerley (PR)
Trent Taylor (Ret) Bryce Treggs (Ret) Chris Davis (KR)
Victor Bolden (Ret) DeAndrew White (Ret) N/A
N/A Chris Davis (Ret) N/A
Nick Rose (K) John Lunsford (K) N/A

We’re approaching this unit a little different. There is the obvious change at kicker, with Robbie Gould replacing Phil Dawson. And there is the change in camp leg, with Nick Rose getting a shot over John Lunsford. Bruce Ellington returns as a potential front-runner as a return man, but Trent Taylor is going to give him a serious challenge.

Where it gets interesting however is in the core options that make up the five special teams units. The five special teams units include kickoff coverage, punt coverage, kick return blocking, punt return blocking, and FG/XP team.

A lot of starters get special teams work each week, but here are the core special teamers from last season, along with some non-core special teams players that still got a decent amount of work. I pulled up special teams snaps at Football Outsiders, and the players below all played on at least 20 percent of the teams special teams snaps.

Dontae Johnson - 77.1%
Michael Wilhoite - 58.3%
Aaron Burbridge - 55.1%
Shaun Draughn - 47.8%
Shayne Skov - 44.5%
Nick Bellore - 41.5%
Mike Purcell - 39.1%
Rod Streater - 38.5%
Blake Bell - 38.1%
Jaquiski Tartt - 34.4%
Garrett Celek - 34.4%
Keith Reaser - 30.0%
Marcus Cromartie - 29.1%
Vinnie Sunseri - 26.5%
JaCorey Shepherd - 22.5%
DeForest Buckner - 20.9%
Quinton Dial - 20.9%
Marcus Ball - 20.4%
Rashard Robinson - 20.2%

When a new coaching staff comes in, they always bring in a handful of players that are going to be core special teamers for them. For the 49ers, that will include Brock Coyle, Dekoda Watson, and Don Jones. They are not all locks to make the roster, but all three have a strong chance.

Back in June, I put together a look at the special teams bubble watch. I don’t know every player who will play extensively on special teams, but some of the names that I think will be worth watching include Ray-Ray Armstrong, Vinnie Sunseri, and Prince Charles Iworah. Most of the rookies will be expected to play on special teams, but these are just a few of the veterans who will be in the mix.

Guys like Dontae Johnson and Keith Reaser are in the hunt for a starting role at cornerback. It is entirely possible one is either starting or not on the roster at all. It will be interesting to see how the 49ers will out their special teams. It makes this particular poll a little harder to figure out.


Are the 49ers better, worse, or the same at special teams in 2017 as compared to 2016?

This poll is closed

  • 45%
    (131 votes)
  • 11%
    (34 votes)
  • 42%
    (121 votes)
286 votes total Vote Now