The San Francisco 49ers beat the Denver Broncos in Week 14, but the win also came with the opportunity to evaluate even more young players than they had to date. The team has been moving players in and out of the lineup, and Sunday saw the biggest changes to date. I’ve posted the snap count below, and you can also read it in the gamebook PDF.
Injuries opened the door for several younger players, with wide receiver Pierre Garçon, strong safety Jaquiski Tartt, and nickel back K’Waun Williams all inactive due to injury. Additionally, the team deactivated defensive tackle Sheldon Day, had defensive tackle Earl Mitchell active but only on special teams, and linebacker Malcolm Smith active but a not seeing a single snap.
The decision to deactivate Day and not give Mitchell any defensive snaps meant a change of pace for the defensive line. D.J. Jones got the start at nose tackle, while Solomon Thomas got more work inside. Thomas played 49 snaps on the day, with 22 of them coming between left defensive tackle, right defensive tackle, and nose tackle, per Pro Football Focus. His previous high for interior work was 15 snaps in Week 7.
The team welcomed back Marquise Goodwin, but we saw Dante Pettis and Kendrick Bourne get the starting spots outside. Goodwin played 24 snaps, just one more than Trent Taylor’s work in the slot. Richie James played four snaps, the first time in a while we’ve seen Taylor getting the bulk of the slot work over James. Pettis led the team’s wide receivers with seven targets. Taylor was only targeted twice, but had a critical third down conversion — a speciality of his as a rookie.
The absence of Tartt and Williams resulted in a secondary that had rookie D.J. Reed starting at nickel back, Antone Exum starting at free safety, and rookie Marcell Harris starting at strong safety. All three shined at different points. It’s way too early to make definitive conclusions, but the 49ers have a chance to develop some serious depth at nickel and the safety positions.
It was a surprise to see Malcolm Smith not getting any snaps in spite of being active. Elijah Lee got the start at weak side linebacker and played all 74 snaps next to Fred Warner. The 49ers ended up playing primarily in nickel and dime packages, with Mark Nzeocha and Pita Taumoepenu playing a combined nine snaps.
49ers snap count vs. Broncos, Week 14