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.
New GM John Lynch has drastically revamped the 49ers roster, especially on defense, and the inside/middle linebacker group has seen more than its share of changes. That makes sense given the switch to a 4-3 front, which will also reduce the number of LBs on the roster. Lynch drafted Reuben Foster at end of the first round (widely considered a steal), and signed two free agents, veteran Malcolm Smith and special teams ace Brock Coyle, to the team. Niners veterans Navorro Bowman and Ray Ray Armstrong return.
After all that, Lynch signed Donavin Newsom as a UDFA after Newsom led his bad defensive team (Missouri) in tackles. But Newsom is not just a camp body. He’s a slightly undersized, super fast LB of the type that is increasingly popular in the NFL as teams pass more and rely on nickel defenses.
And he has a surprising number of fans. Tony Pauline wrote that “Donavin Newsom was one of the most overlooked linebackers in this draft, and I would not be surprised at all if he makes the roster as a backup weakside defender.” Jerod Brown at NinersWire named him as one of the five UDFAs with the best chance to make the team.
Weight: 240 lbs
40-yard dash: 4.54 (Pro Day)
3-Cone drill: 7.10
225 lb bench press reps: 22
20-yard shuttle: 4.37
Vertical jump: 36”
Appeared in 48 games during his five years (2012-16) at Missouri, finishing his career with 165 tackles, 18.0 TFLs, 5.5 sacks, 7 PDs, 5 FFs and 1 FR. As a senior in 2016, registered a team-high 73 tackles in 12 games (11 starts) while adding 5.5 TFLs, 3.0 sacks, 4 PDs and 1 FF. Finished fourth on the team with 63 tackles in 2015 to go along with 9.0 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, 2 FFs and 2 PDs. Saw action in all 14 games (4 starts) and picked up 24 tackles 3.5 TFLs, 1 PD and 1 FR in 2014. In 2013, saw action in 10 games, while recording 1 tackle on defense and 4 tackles on special teams. Redshirted in 2012. Attended Parkway North (St. Louis, MO) HS, where he also was a three-year letterman in basketball, earning all-conference recognition as a junior. Born 10/13/93 in St. Louis, MO.
Why he might succeed in the NFL
He’s very fast and flows to the ball. While Pro Day test scores can be somewhat inflated, his 4.54 in the 40 yards dash was bested by only one LB at the combine — Jabril Peppers.
Already in minicamp, Newsom picked up a fumble and raced past Joe Staley for a touchdown. His speed and style of play make him a potential backup at multiple LB positions, though special teams will be his only hope of making this roster with Bowman, Foster and Smith ahead of him.
Why he might not
Special teams is not a gimme either. The team signed third phase aces MLB Brock Coyle and OLB Dekoda Watson before Newsom, both proven NFL vets. Coyle and Malcolm Smith are veterans of the Seattle defense that coordinator Robert Saleh is installing, giving them a big edge over Newsom. He’ll also need to beat out returning vet Ray Ray Armstrong, who flashed at times before his injury last year, to make the 53-man roster.
Odds of making the roster
Unless he makes more impact plays like his touchdown fumble return, and shows skill as a solid depth player at more than one of the linebacker roles, Newsom is more likely to make the practice squad than the 53-man roster. At the same time, no one will be surprised if he pulls it off. Call it a 40-60 likelihood.