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Who is the “Jenga piece” of the 49ers?

The pickings are slim this year for most irreplaceable player.

Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks put together a regular podcast called Move The Sticks, and the two former scouts offer plenty of intriguing insight. We get the usual scouting and background, but they can get really creative. And given how dead things are right now with three weeks remaining until training camp, their latest idea is a fun one.

In one of their recent podcasts, Jeremiah and Brooks discussed what they call the biggest “Jenga pieces” for each NFL team. For those of you who don’t know, Jenga is a game in which players take turn removing one block at a time from a tower constructed of 54 blocks. You keep pulling them out and placing them on the top level until someone pulls one out and the tower comes tumbling down.

Jeremiah and Brooks describe a “Jenga piece” on a team as the player who, if they’re removed from the roster, would lead to the team falling apart. They also removed quarterbacks from the equation since that is the obvious choice for a lot of teams. It is basically, which player can each team least afford to lose to injury.

Some teams are pretty obvious, but it should surprise nobody that the 49ers discussion was a difficult one for them. It starts at 18:57, and opens with dead air followed by some hemming and hawing. They talk about Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster being talented, but they’re also rookies, so nobody knows what they’ll do yet. They talk about guys like Eric Reid, Pierre Garçon, and Carlos Hyde, and how they’re OK options, but not guys that overly scare another team.

They had to pick somebody for the team, so eventually they settled on Joe Staley. He’s the veteran leader of that offensive line, and without much in the way of big additions, his absence would be a big deal. In discussing the 49ers, Jeremiah and Brooks said there just aren’t many players that scare you on this 49ers team at this point in time, and adding some big-time talent is the biggest task at hand.

A year from now, there is a good chance this exercise could prove more difficult to assess. Guys like DeForest Buckner and Jimmie Ward, along with the rookies mentioned above on defense could prove to be critical components. Rashard Robinson is another guy who if he can stay healthy all season could be a big piece on defense. And of course, if NaVorro Bowman can stay healthy and not lose a step, he’d be a big cog.

On offense, Jeremy Zuttah will be an interesting one to watch over the next year. The center has been a key cog in Kyle Shanahan’s offenses, and if he can get some quality play from Zuttah, he could be worth discussion as a key cog. Kyle Juszczyk is going to get a lot of looks in a lot of ways this season, and while the offense may not be great, he could be a critical cog for it being anywhere near consistently competent. Joe Williams or Matt Breida could very well emerge as a big presence at running back before too long.

But other than that, there’s just not a lot to pick from for the time being. This will be fun to revisit when the 2017 season wraps up. It’s certainly not a scientific assessment of where things stand, but if the 49ers have a few more options for this kind of discussion, that would certainly count as a positive in roster development!