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NFL roster cuts: Best players available for 49ers

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Initial NFL roster cuts are in. Who do we want?

NFC Championship - San Francisco 49ers v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

A lot of good players are available for the 49ers, who get second pick on the waiver wire. (Veterans of four or more years become free agents immediately, though.)

It’s notable that the team chose youth and growth potential over veteran expertise time after time, so temper your enthusiasm for the wily, expensive veterans often cut this time of year. Even though the Niners have tons of money, they are betting on the future.

The one exception there might be the offensive line, which happens to be the team’s biggest need. Not only do you want to protect your quarterbacks from injury, but the whole process of installing Kyle Shanahan’s offense will collapse if the line can’t execute the outside zone play. John Lynch already acquired a number of veterans up front, though several didn’t work out and have been cut already.

Here are some intriguing prospects at various positions:

Offensive Guard

Were there ever defensive guards in the NFL? Why do we keep calling them offensive guards (as opposed to what, mouth guards)? Maybe just because OG is a fun acronym.

Anyway, the Niners biggest need was patched a bit by the trade for the disappointing first round pick Laken Tomlinson. Except that, according to Lions fans, his biggest weak spot is the outside zone run play. Oops.

Alex Boone was cut, but his um, outspokenness might make a reunion with the Niners complicated. More to the point, it’s not clear how much he would help. As Fooch notes, he seems a better fit in a power scheme. Albert Breer tweeted that “Internally, the Vikings saw a serious decline last year.”

And Boone was recently destroyed by 228-lb Reuben Foster on this play against San Francisco, which is unlikely to have impressed John Lynch.

Michael Schofield, who did well for Denver after converting from tackle to guard, is another surprise cut.

Offensive Tackle

Eric Winston (who is president of the players’ union) was the big name cut at tackle. The 11-year veteran would be a good leader and mentor to younger players.

Eagles’ T Dillon Gordon was a surprise cut. The 2016 UDFA has versatility that might appeal to Kyle Shanahan. He played both tight end and tackle at LSU, and has played fullback for the Eagles this offseason as well.

Tight End

The Niners have a lot of tight end talent, but they cut Cole “Dirty Tini” Hikutini in the obvious hopes of sneaking him onto the practice squad. If he gets poached, their long term plan will be disrupted and it might then make sense to cut Garrett Celek in favor of another team’s discard, or carry a fourth TE after Josh Garnett goes on return-eligible IR.

UDFA Billy Brown was an Eagles fan favorite this training camp. He played WR at D-2 Shepherd College due to academic issues and dominated the competition, which isn’t surprising for a 6’4” 255 pound receiver with great hands. The Eagles converted him to a move TE (he ran a 4.70 40-yard dash at the combine) and he flashed in the preseason. By all accounts the team is hoping he clears waivers for their practice squad.

Running Back

This wasn’t seen as a need until the team put Joe Williams on the season-ending IR list. Raheem Mostert flashed in the preseason and probably wouldn’t have cleared waivers, especially since he’s returned kicks well for (or against) most of the teams in the league in his travel-heavy career.

BUT — if the Niners pick up an RB on waivers and release Mostert a day later, after teams have grabbed all the initial cuts, he might make it through.

My first thought is Washington’s Matt Jones. Scott McCloughan, who might be the best talent evaluator in football, called him the most NFL’s most underrated player. And who am I to argue?

Other options: former Oregon Ducks Byron Marshall, who played well in the preseason for the Eagles and Kenjon Barner, cut by the Chargers. The Chiefs cut C.J. Spiller.

Linebacker

The Eagles fifth round pick Nate Gerry, who was featured in our article on LB options, was released and not placed on any of the various injury lists. Joe Walker and Najee Goode, also discussed, made the roster and no one wanted to trade for Mychal Kendricks.

Second year LB Scooby Wright (6’1”, 247) showed well in the preseason for the Cardinals but didn’t make the cut. He was a major playmaker in the Pac-12, but then again so was Shane Skov. Scooby was Pac-12 defensive player of the year as a sophomore with six forced fumbles and 16.5 sacks. Note to beat writers: fun name, not a great interview.

The Raiders cut both veteran Jelani Jenkins, who is only 25 but doesn’t go through waivers, and UDFA LaTroy Lewis, who had a great training camp. Other names: Antwione Williams (6’3”, 229, 24) and Carroll Phillips (6’3”, 243, 25).

Safety

T.J. Ward is the big name. He and Jairus Byrd were the big name FA safeties in 2014, but neither has lived up to their big paychecks. Ward has faced some struggles with injuries but would be a big name addition. Jaquiski Tartt had an interesting reaction to one fan’s excitement:

Another possibility would be UDFA Anthony Cioffi, cut by Oakland. Will Reeve jr. of the RaidersWire called him “a subtle beast.”

Defensive Tackle

This was not projected to be a need for the Niners, as the DL is their most stacked position group, but the team released both Quinton Dial and Chris Jones, DeForrest Buckner’s two backups.

Seattle dropped their starting DT Ahtyba Rubin after trading for Sheldon Richardson. Lawrence Okoye is certainly an intriguing player — accepted into Oxford for college, rugby player, Olympic discus thrower. He was cut by Arizona because he parked in someone else’s spot (“entitlement”).

Obviously this isn’t every one of the decent players among the 1,100+ cut from rosters. Who do you like?