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49ers 53-man roster projection: The Niners should keep an extra lineman on both sides of the ball

There are a few tough decisions the 49ers have to make before Tuesday at 1 p.m. It won’t be easy to decide which running backs, wideouts, or defensive lineman to keep.

San Francisco 49ers v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The preseason is over. The 49ers have to get to 53 players on its roster before Tuesday at 1 p.m. PT.

The roster cuts should come pouring in throughout the next 30 hours. Until then, here is what I believe is the best 53-man roster San Francisco can field this season.

There’s no denying my natural bias plays a part in these decisions, and there’s risk rolling with youth at specific positions, but I’ll run those risks and bet on the young guys improving the more they play.

Quarterback (2): Jimmy Garoppolo, Trey Lance

I think Kyle Shanahan breaks his tendencies here and rolls with two quarterbacks. However, I also believe we don’t see anywhere near the type of rotation at quarterback that we saw during the final preseason game.

The risk for injury heightens when you play two quarterbacks every series. So I’d expect Lance to get a series here and there throughout the game, but that’s it. Aside from high leverage situations like in the red zone, of course.

While Shanahan said he wanted to keep three quarterbacks last week, his “I don’t think so” answer at halftime during the preseason finale when asked if a QB rotation during a regular-season game is a good idea seals the deal for me.

You rolled the dice by trading up for Lance. Why waste a roster spot on a player who has a slim chance of seeing the field when you have so many tough decisions to make at other positions.

Plus — especially with Maurice Hurst on the active roster, even though he’s injured — you have far too many questions at other positions to justify keeping three quarterbacks. So take advantage of the practice squad rules and call Sudfeld up for games as you see fit.

I’m investing in my quarterbacks by keeping an extra offensive lineman, not a third quarterback.

Running back (5): Raheem Mostert, Trey Sermon, Kyle Juszczyk, Elijah Mitchell, Wayne Gallman

This is not an easy decision. JaMycal Hasty couldn’t have finished August strong with his last two performances. But, unfortunately, putting the ball on the ground multiple times is unforgivable. The 49ers cross their fingers that Hasty clears waivers and can join their practice squad.

Gallman is 11 pounds heavier than Hasty, and that shows up in pass protection. That’s where Gallman’s at his best. Both weight and pass pro give him the nod over Hasty.

Mostert is going to have a heck of a season if he stays healthy. The rushing lanes for him will be gigantic. Of course, you know it’s coming, but I’m always impressed by Mostert’s speed.

The 49ers will keep two rookies. Sermon has run with the first-team offense for all of training camp. His spot was never in jeopardy. Once Mitchell went down with an injury with a hip injury earlier this month, he wasn’t guaranteed a spot.

Mitchell’s 45-yard kick return received the 49ers' first kick, too, had to seal the deal for his roster spot. He also had a nice run where he trucked a Raiders defender. So the Niners have two explosive running backs with two “bruisers.”

Wide receiver (6): Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, Mohamed Sanu, Trent Sherfield, Jauan Jennings, Jalen Hurd

Jennings didn’t have his greatest outing on Sunday, but he’s been consistent enough to earn a spot on this roster. In addition, Jennings lined up on most of the 49ers' special teams, giving him plenty of value.

Aiyuk, in my mind, should return punts — making Travis Benjamin expendable. Benjamin, who opted out last season, won’t have teams getting in line to sign him. Also, Benjamin suffered a concussion Sunday. I wonder if that’ll factor into any roster decisions.

Shanahan praised Benjamin’s speed pre-game on the radio Sunday, saying the Niners have missed that element.

Hurd dropped two passes on Sunday, but Kyle Shanahan said, “I’d consider his day a success.” The 49ers used Hurd as a decoy on a couple of jet motions. They also gave him the ball on a carry. He seems like he’d play a hybrid role in this offense.

Sherfield is a baller. Talk about somebody making the most of their opportunity. He seems primed to contribute to this offense in a major way.

Tight end (4): George Kittle, Ross Dwelley, Charlie Woerner, MyCole Pruitt

This seems pretty straightforward, especially without a third QB. Pruitt has been ahead of Jordan Matthews during training camp and the games. I believe what the team is showing me and not going with the more known quantity of Matthews.

Plus, Pruitt has shown to be a solid athlete. So he’ll likely have a big special teams role.

George Kittle is making the roster. I laughed after Kittle tried to run over two defenders in a preseason game. Shanahan saw that was said, “nope, get him outta there,” probably.

Offensive line (9): Trent Williams, Laken Tomlinson, Alex Mack, Daniel Brunskill, Mike McGlinchey, Jaylon Moore, Jake Brendel, Aaron Banks, Colton McKivitz

Another position that feels like it’s set in stone. When Mack doesn’t play, Brendel does. Knowing how important the Niners view the center position in Shanahan’s offense shows that Brendel makes the roster.

Moore serves as the swing tackle, McKivitz as the swing guard, while Aaron Banks continues to develop.

One thing that stood out during the final preseason, and each time Garoppolo was under center, was the time he had to throw. That’s a testament to the upgrade at center. This offensive line is going to be quite good.

Defensive line (10): Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Javon Kinlaw, D.J. Jones, Dee Ford, Samson Ebukam, Arden Key, Kevin Givens, Zach Kerr, Kentavius Street

How do you keep fewer than ten defensive linemen if you’re the 49ers? The first six are locks. When Kinlaw was injured or didn’t practice due to “maintenance,” Givens replaced him.

If you’re wondering where Maurice Hurst is, the 49ers already told us he’s making the roster. They’ll keep him on the team, then, after September 1, placed Hurst on the IR, and he’ll be eligible to return in three games. That makes the most sense.

Kerr finished the preseason and how Street came along, so San Francisco will be just fine. They are embarrassingly deep upfront. Ford is going to have a year where he’s blocked 1-on-1. The same goes with Kinlaw. Best of luck, opposing offenses.

Linebacker (5): Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw, Azeez Al-Shaair, Marcell Harris, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles

In my head, I hate that I’m cutting Jonas Griffith. He was a pleasure to watch during the preseason. But, Flannigan-Fowles is a better fit, and Harris played in sub-packages alongside Warner with Greenlaw out on Sunday. That tells me Harris is making the team.

The coaches raved about Harris, who continued to make plays against the Raiders. This would give the 49ers four safety converts at linebacker and Al-Shaair. They’re in good hands. The speed at linebacker will give offenses issues.

Cornerback (5): Jason Verrett, Emmanuel Moseley, K’Waun Williams, Demmodore Lenoir, Ambry Thomas

I loved what I saw from Lenoir up until Sunday. After that, he looked a bit out of place in the slot. I’m glad the 49ers tried him out there, but that’ll be a work in progress for him. Lenoir remains the best perimeter cornerback on the team after Verrett and Moseley.

I know it. You know it. I don’t know why I’m fighting it, but I can’t put Dontae Johnson on the team. The same mistakes happened all August. When teams targeted him, or even Jimmy or Trey during practice, the results were a win for the offense.

Johnson’s versatility on special teams and ability to play both cornerback positions — paired with Lenoir and Thomas being rookies — will be the reason he’s on the roster come Wednesday.

With how the rest of the roster is shaped, I’m willing to roll the dice on the youth, knowing who I have rushing the passer if it gets to the point where Lenoir or Thomas have to play on defense. Both have also shown enough as gunners on special teams too.

Suppose the goal is to put your “best 53” on the field, justifying Johnson over whoever feels like a reach. Lenoir, Thomas, or extra safeties or wideouts can handle his role on special teams.

Safeties (4): Jimmie Ward, Jaquiski Tartt, Tavon Wilson, Talanoa Hufanga

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix made an interception Sunday and was active, but I don’t believe he did enough to make this roster. Hufanga is better in every aspect and comes with a much higher upside.

You can use Hufanga in the slot, the box, the post, or the intermediate portion of the field as a robber. He makes it difficult to keep him off the field. After the game, Tartt said Hufanaga is like a “lion.”

Speaking of Tartt, it was nice to see him back on the field. He’s an underrated player around the league and does so much for this defense. When this unit takes the field this season, they’ll have 11 good players on the field at once. Not many teams can say that.

Special teams (3): Robbie Gould, Mitch Wishnowsky, Taybor Pepper

Gould made all of his extra points Sunday! Yay!

Wishnowsky had four punts and averaged 61 yards per kick, with three landing inside of the 20. Surely he’ll keep that average up during the season.

I don’t expect many surprises come 1 p.m. on Tuesday. But, as always, the 53-man roster during the first week of September will look much different come the 49ers 53-man roster once we get to January.