We’ve been going over training camp battles along with previewing each player in our 90-in-90 series. With training camp underway, it’s time to make a prediction guessing the 49ers' 53-man roster for this upcoming season.
We’ll see how much changes between now and the start of the season. How far along Trey Lance is could determine whether the team keeps three quarterbacks. The same goes for wide receivers, cornerbacks, and safeties. Each position will have a direct effect on another.
Quarterback: (3) Jimmy Garoppolo, Trey Lance, Nate Sudfield
I’m still of the mindset that Kyle Shanahan keeps three quarterbacks on the roster. It’s something he’s always done, and I don’t see that changing, despite having two quarterbacks capable of starting.
Keeping three QBs means that a positional player will be on the outside looking in, at least for the start of the season. Sudfield received $252,000 in guaranteed money, which is $252,000 more than Josh Rosen. I’d expect Rosen to remain on the practice squad as he tries to turn his career around and potentially serve as a team’s backup next year.
Running back: (4) Raheem Mostert, Kyle Juszczyk, Trey Sermon, Elijah Mitchell
Jeff Wilson Jr.’s injury opens the door for Mitchell to earn a roster spot. I think he beats out Wayne Gallman and JaMycal Hasty. The final spot could come down to who is the best special teams player.
This will be the most talented group of running backs the 49ers have had under Kyle Shanahan — if healthy, of course. You have the speed demon in Mostert, the do-it-all fullback in Juice, and a 215-pound running back who is as graceful as he is powerful but can also win out of the backfield as a receiver.
Mitchell serves as the best future complement to Sermon. With him having experience as a kick returner, he makes the roster.
Wide receivers: (6) Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, Richie James, Jalen Hurd, Mohamed Sanu, Trent Sherfield
The fifth spot comes down to Sanu, Trent Sherfield, and a host of other names. With the need for special teams, the team decides to keep an extra receiver, and it’s Sherfield.
Sherfield received more guaranteed money than Sanu, but Sanu has experience with Kyle Shanahan. I have a hard time seeing the 49ers entering the 2021 season without an established veteran the young wideouts can lean on.
Is a mentor enough to warrant a roster spot? We’ll see. This assumes Hurd is healthy, which is a dangerous assumption based on the past two seasons. Sherfield provides more speed and special teams value than Sanu.
I’d expect the likes of Jauan Jennings, Austin Watkins Jr., and Kevin White to remain on the practice squad while veterans River Cracraft and Travis Benjamin are released. Benjamin is a veteran with return experience, but at 31, he no longer provides the same speed he once offered.
Tight ends: (3) George Kittle, Ross Dwelley, Charlie Woerner
The 49ers have kept four tight ends on their regular-season roster during the past two seasons, but it’s hard to justify keeping more than three tight ends with the depth at other positions.
Keeping three quarterbacks already feels like a slight overkill, and adding a fourth tight end doesn’t help.
Offensive line: (9) Trent Williams, Laken Tomlinson, Alex Mack, Aaron Banks, Mike McGlinchey, Daniel Brunskill, Jaylon Moore, Colton McKivitz, Shon Coleman
There will be many “bests” for the 49ers this season, but perhaps none better than their offensive line. If Banks is competent, he’s an upgrade from the past two seasons at right guard. But, also, competent could very well be the “worst” player along the offensive line.
McGlinchey should improve because of that, as will Tomlinson being sandwiched in between two vets. I don’t think the offensive line will get enough credit this season, so I want to get out in front and tell you they’re the reason the 49ers will have one of the best offenses in the league.
Defensive line: (10) Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Javon Kinlaw, Dee Ford, D.J. Jones, Samson Ebukam, Kevin Givens, Zach Kerr, Arden Key, Maurice Hurst
One of the deepest position groups in the NFL could find a name like Maurice Hurst on the outside looking in. I wonder if the 49ers place whoever the tenth man on the defensive line is on the practice squad and call them up weekly to protect them from being poached.
I think Hurst winds up making it, and the team goes with the best overall players, not just at a specific position. Hurst is one of the best 53 players on the team, so he makes the roster.
Of course, this changes if Ford isn’t healthy. Kentavius Street hasn’t done enough to warrant a roster spot over the names ahead of him, while Jordan Willis is suspended for the first six games of the season.
Linebacker: (5) Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw, Azeez Al-Shaair, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, Jonas Griffith
I’d say the first four spots are determined, barring injury. Griffith is a shot in the dark here. “May the best special-teamer win” is how I imagine the team determines who is the fifth linebacker.
It’ll come down to Griffith, Justin Hilliard, James Burgess, or Elijah Sullivan. Don’t be surprised if we don’t see as many linebackers on the field, as there is a lot of youth, which leads to mental mistakes.
Defensive back: (10) Jason Verrett, Emmanuel Moseley, K’Waun Williams, Jaquiski Tartt, Jimmie Ward, Ambry Thomas, Tony Jefferson, Dontae Johnson, Deommodore Lenoir, Talanoa Hufanga
All three rookies that were drafted in 2021 make the roster and immediately make an impact on special teams. We’ll see if Thomas or Lenior cracks the lineup due to injury or being better than Moseley. That feels a bit ambitious, especially early.
Jefferson subs in where Moore would have been. He’s a player who I can’t wait to see how much he has left and if there is any rust. Knowing the injury history between both starting safeties, Jefferson makes a heck of an insurance policy and a significant upgrade from Marcell Harris.
We’ll have an idea where the team wants Thomas to play. They cross-trained Moseley in the slot during the last couple of training camps, which should happen with Thomas.
Special teams: (3) Robbie Gould, Mitch Wishnowsky, Taybor Pepper
Each of these three is signed through 2022. The former two haven’t been great, but Gould comes with a history that makes it hard to move on from. If San Francisco is going to be as good as we think, their special teams have to be much better in 2021.