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13 questions to determine how strong the depth is on the 49ers roster

This exercise puts into perspective how deep this team is

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

During Kyle Shanahan's tenure, the San Francisco 49ers have found out the hard way that football is a game of attrition. We've seen cornerbacks signed off the street and forced into the lineup the same week. Then, in 2020, they trotted out defensive lineman who media members that cover the team couldn't recognize.

With under 100 days to go until the regular season and just under two months until training camp, let's turn back the time machine to a 2014 article from Pat Kirwan of CBS, where he proposed 13 questions to assess roster depth.

Knowing we're still a ways out, not all of Kirwan's questions can be answered with certainty. We'll do our best, though. You get two points for a "yes" answer, one point for a "probably," and zero points for a "no." Let's see how the Niners do. Let us know how many points you come up with.

Does your team have a capable backup QB that can go at least 2-2 in a four-game stretch?

Let's act as if Jimmy Garoppolo is no longer on the roster for argument's sake. That leaves Nate Sudfeld and Brock Purdy.

Assuming Sudfeld beats out the seventh-rounder feels safe, but that's as much credit as I'll give Sudfeld. He has had 37 passing attempts since 2017. Unfortunately, Sudfeld's last outing in 2020 was not kind to the eyes. He went 5-for-12 for 32 yards and threw an interception while completing only one first down with two sacks.

I know we're conditioned to believe the Niners can remain competitive with a backup quarterback. We have evidence to confirm this is true, given the relative success of Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard, to a lesser degree.

Where in the schedule is Sudfeld winning two games? They'd have to come in the first four, but you never know what to expect during Week 1. Outside of that, the Panthers and Falcons games are back-to-back. The Niners would be short favorites in those contests, but even then, you'd have to hold your breath for a win.

Verdict: No (0 points)

2. Does your team have a real swing offensive tackle, a guy that can play left or right tackle and has experience?

The 2019 season proved San Francisco could get by with not one but both offensive tackles injured for an extended period. That was quietly one of the more impressive feats of that season.

Heading into 2022, the Niners invested a couple of draft picks into would-be swing offensive linemen. They also have Justin Skule, could kick Jaylon Moore, the presumed starter at right guard, to tackle, and have Daniel Brunskill.

Moore, Skule, and Brunskill have experience, making this a yes.

Verdict: Yes (2 points)

3. Does your team have a solid inside offensive lineman that can play guard or center?

Solid is as subjective as it gets. I'm counting Brunskill. And, if not, again, you have one of the rookies such as Dohnovan West, Jason Poe, or Spencer Burford has options. Jake Brendel is an option as well. We have evidence of Brunskill doing both for multiple games, though, so the Niners get the nod here.

Verdict: Yes (4 points)

4. Is there a quality second running back that can deliver a 100-yard rushing day if he had to start?

San Francisco drafted a running back in the third round in each of the past two drafts. Elijah Mitchell has gone over 100 yards. The jury is still out on Trey Sermon. It's fair to expect improvement in his second year. But, I'm not giving up on him.

As for Ty Davis-Price, there's no doubt he could reel off a 100-yard game in a spot start in this offense. The question about the 49ers running back depth is whether or not they can all stay healthy. Given the space created in this offense, the backups could rush for 100 yards in a one-game sample size.

Verdict: Yes (6 points)

5. Is there a good second tight end on the roster?

"Good" is in the eye of the beholder. I wouldn't call Ross Dwelley "good." Charlie Woerner is better than good at blocking, but his receiving production has benefitted from scheme and not Woerner's individual talent. Tyler Kroft isn't moving the needle, so my answer here is no. And we've seen the 49ers' offensive production fall off a cliff when George Kittle isn't in the lineup.

Verdict: No (6 points)

6. Can the third wide receiver step up and start in the two-WR packages if a starter goes down?

This is where it'd be nice to see how Jauan Jennings has taken a step or what Danny Gray brings to the table from a consistency standpoint. Sure, you hope Ray-Ray McCloud or one of the younger, lesser-known wideouts could perform, but the 49ers don't draft Gray early if they're confident in those names.

It comes down to Gray, for me. I don't believe Jennings can win consistently on the outside with his lack of speed. So, is Gray ready? That's a lot to ask of a rookie receiver. Gray projects as a role player until proven otherwise. Because of that, my answer is no.

Verdict: No (6 points)

7. Does your team have a designated pass-rush specialist who could play the early downs if need be?

This team has backups who would start for other teams. Let's say Nick Bosa and Samson Ebukam start on the edge. That leaves Kerry Hyder, Kemoko Turay, Charles Omenihu, and second-round rookie Drake Jackson as options to start.

Verdict: Yes (8 points)

8. Is there a third defensive tackle that not only plays in a rotation but could play the whole game if need be?

Arik Armstead's stamina should be viewed as a luxury. He played 76% of the snaps last season, which was a career-high and about 10-15% higher than your average interior defender.

After Armstead and Javon Kinlaw, you have Maurice Hurst, Hassan Ridgeway, Kevin Givens, and rookie Kalia Davis, who is expected to start the season on the PUP list. Thanks to the depth along the edge and seeing Ridgeway hold up on 33% of the Eagles snaps last year and 53% of the team's snaps in 2019, I'd give the defensive line the benefit of the doubt. They get a Kris Kocurek bump.

Verdict: Yes (10 points)

9. Is there a quality nickel corner on the roster since most teams are at least 50 percent sub defenses?

K'Waun Williams has been a staple in the slot for the 49ers. Now that he's gone, training camp will sort out the "starter." Rookie Samuel Womack is a contender, as is Emmanuel Moseley, who starts on the outside. Let's pencil Charvarius Ward in with the first team. If Jason Verrett or Moseley starts, that means Moseley, Ambry Thomas, or Womack will hold down the slot.

We're guessing a bit here, but there are enough bodies where I'm comfortable giving San Francisco a probably.

Verdict: Probably (11 points)

10. Is there a fourth corner for dime packages?

I could copy and paste the above answer. The trio of Ward, Verrett, and Moseley make for an above-average trio. That leaves Thomas, Womack, and everyone's favorite, Dontae Johnson, who filled in admirably down the stretch last season for the Niners.

Do you believe Johnson could do what he did in 2021 again? Are the youngsters in Womack, Tariq Castro-Fields, or even Deommodore Lenoir ready to play? With this pass rush, probably.

Verdict: Probably (12 points)

11. Is there a third safety for big nickel defenses?

George Odum has starter experience in the NFL. Tarvarius Moore started games in 2020. Moore occasionally played in 2019 in sub-packages. He's an ideal role player to bring off the bench. I love Moore and what he brings to the defense, so this question is easy.

Verdict: Yes (14 points)

12. Is there a return specialist who can either handle punts and kick returns or contribute as a real position player?

Are you ready to make fans forget about a decade-long drought of consistent return men, Mr. McCloud?

That's who this question comes down to. McCloud figures to handle the return duties as Brandon Aiyuk focuses on offense. It'd be surprising if Ray-Ray contributed consistently as a positional player, but he's a special teams ace, so we'll give him credit.

Verdict: Probably (15 points)

13. Does your team have a special-teams linebacker that leads the specials and can play inside linebacker in a pinch?

Oren Burks, you're up! The Niners have three linebackers they're comfortable starting. DeMeco Ryans named some first-year players he liked during minicamp, and that's before we get to Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, who has started three games in the previous two seasons.

Verdict: Yes (17 points)

How many points did you come up with?