Bleacher report thinks the San Francisco 49ers are going win 12 games in 2020. Vegas thinks it’ll be 11 wins. You, me, your wife, and even the most disgruntled Niners fans are counting on a playoff run this year. Why? Because San Francisco will have their strongest roster in nearly a decade heading into the season. There are question marks, as with any team, but the positives outweigh the negatives, and it isn’t particularly close.
As you read these projections, I challenge you to think in terms of fielding the best roster possible. We’ll do positional battles all next week. For now, here is my 53-man projection for the 49ers. If you’re wondering why there isn’t a 55-man projection, teams can increase roster sizes to 54 or 55 during the season by elevating one to two players from the practice squad, and only for game day. The player(s) who were elevated must return to the practice squad immediately after the game, which is why the rosters will remain at 53 during the week. So one week the 49ers may need an extra defensive lineman, while another week they’ll need an extra defensive back, for example.
Offense — 25
Quarterbacks (3) — Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Mullens, C.J. Beathard
The 49ers are going to keep three quarterbacks until further notice. UDFA Brock Rutter figures to be the fan-favorite during the preseason, but the jump in competition may be too steep to make the roster in 2020. With Mullens and Beathard entering the final years of their contracts, and the practice squad expanding by two from 10 to 12 this year, Rutter has an excellent chance to stick around if he can show promise.
Running back (4) — Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, Jerick McKinnon, Kyle Juszczyk,
One of the UDFA’s, Salvon Ahmed or JaMycal Hasty, will need to impress to make the roster. If Coleman hasn’t been released yet, I’m not sure why the team would the closer we get to the season— unless they have reason to. Before Coleman was injured, the 49ers carried three running backs for 13 weeks in 2019. A healthy McKinnon makes the roster. Will he have the same type of burst a year removed from a setback?
Receiver (6) — Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Kendrick Bourne, Trent Taylor, Jalen Hurd, Dante Pettis
The first three are locks. The next two, like McKinnon, are dependent on health. The sixth spot is going to come down to Pettis and a seventh-round draft pick. If Pettis cannot beat out Jauan Jennings, then there’s no room for him on a Super Bowl roster. The lack of offseason team activities may save Dante, who is still among the most talented receivers on the roster. With the injury history between Taylor and Hurd, don’t be shocked to see Jennings on the active roster at some point in 2020.
The 49ers have players they’re high on. Shawn Poindexter is a vertical threat the team believes they can turn into a weapon. He’s likely a practice squad candidate. Richie James and Travis Benjamin likely fall victim to a numbers game. Both of their games are reliant on speed. At this point, it feels like the staff isn’t going to give James any more opportunities. With no James, Aiyuk, Taylor, and Pettis will battle for the punt return duties.
Tight end (3) — George Kittle, Ross Dwelley, Charlie Woerner
Tight end is the easiest position to project. Woerner was the best run-blocking tight end in the draft and will allow the 49ers to play 12 personnel and use Woerner in the backfield instead of the team’s best player on third downs. I am intrigued by Chase Harrell. Also, could we see a free agent signing or trade made? For all we know, Kittle’s backup isn’t on the roster yet.
Offensive line (9) — Trent Williams, Laken Tomlinson, Weston Richburg, Daniel Brunskill, Mike McGlinchey, Ben Garland, Tom Compton, Shon Coleman, Colton McKivitiz
The Niners kept eight offensive linemen on the active game-day roster last year and came close to having to shuffle positions around, so they’ll keep nine linemen this year. Right guard is the lone position up for grabs. That’ll come down to Brunskill, Compton, fifth-rounder Colton McKivitiz, and Ross Reynolds. I think Brunskill wins the job outright, and Compton is his backup. I’m giving McKivitz the nod as the last lineman due to his versatility to play tackle and guard.
Shanahan said Coleman had a fantastic camp before his leg injury. Coleman can play right or left tackle. Brunskill and Compton can play tackle as well. Garland can play center or guard, and Kyle said Brunskill could play all five positions if needed. The line is in good shape with eight players.
Defense - 25
Defensive line — (10) Nick Bosa, Javon Kinlaw, D.J. Jones, Arik Armstead, Dee Ford, Ronald Blair, Solomon Thomas, Kerry Hyder, Kevin Givens, Darrion Daniel
The 49ers do a lot of shuffling on the defensive line. The team kept ten players last year, and that won’t change this year. Bosa through Hyder are locks. After that, may the best man win. Life isn’t fair, and we’ll find that out as Blair and Jullian Taylor are both recovering from injury and may start the season on the PUP list. Blair has earned a longer leash, so he makes it. I might be one year early on Givens here, but he’s not going anywhere. Daniel replaces Sheldon Day’s snaps, and Kris Kocurek gives Givens 10-15 snaps as a pass rusher, while Thomas and Hyder split time in sub-packages.
The 49ers are counting on their 2020 second-round pick, Dee Ford. As Robert Saleh said, he unlocks the rest of the defensive line.
Linebackers — (5) Fred Warner, Kwon Alexander, Dre Greenlaw, Azeez Al-Shaair, Joe Walker
The 49ers kept five linebackers last year, and that should remain the same in 2020. We’ll talk about who starts next to Warner in sub-packages when we circle back to the linebackers. If money plays a factor, it’s Kwon. If Greenlaw continues to progress, it’ll be tough to leave him off the field.
Al-Shaair’s college tape is superior to Greenlaw’s college tape, but Al-Shaair was coming off an injury. A year ago, I thought Al-Shaair would outperform Greenlaw in 2020. Fast forward to today, and Greenlaw made the most of his opportunity. All that is to say, Al-Shaair is a talented player and will show better a year removed from injury. I’m giving Walker the edge as he has experience as a special teamer in the NFL, something Jonas Griffith does not have and is more athletic than Mark Nzeocha.
Cornerback — (6) Richard Sherman, Emmanuel Moseley, Ahkello Witherspoon, K’Waun Williams, D.J. Reed, Tim Harris
The first five are locks. Reed is probably the starting kick returner in 2020, and he can play both inside and outside at cornerback. The last spot comes down to the ghost of Verrett and last year’s sixth-rounder Tim Harris, who John Lynch mentioned before he brought up Witherspoon pre-draft. It seems silly to continue to bring Verrett up, but, when healthy, the 49ers have high hopes for him. That’s why Verrett is still on the roster. Harris wasn’t nearly as impressive last year during training camp, but another year under his belt should help. I’ll say Harris now, flip to Verrett after a couple of training camp highlights, and settle on Harris by Week 1.
We’ll argue about who starts opposite Sherm in our positional battle article.
Safety — (4) Jimmie Ward, Jaquiski Tartt, Tarvarius Moore, Marcell Harris
The safety room will remain the same in 2020. Re-signing Jimmie was the correct move. The 49ers are banking on him and Tartt to play a full season, and there’s significant risk there. Moore is competent, and with another year of practicing at his natural position, Moore should improve in 2020. Fans seem to be split on Harris. I’d rather have Moore play in the box than him, but that didn’t happen last year when Tartt awent down.
There’s pressure on Ward and Tartt to remain healthy.
Specialists — (3) Robbie Gould, Mitch Wishnowsky, Kyle Nelson
The only question here is whether Gould can return to form with Nelson playing all season.