The 49ers report to training camp in less than a week. We’ll talk about the most intriguing positional battles throughout the week. But, before we get there, let’s discuss a few under-the-radar candidates to make the roster.
The beauty of camp is the competition. The players who know their chances of making the roster are slim know they must impress, while others must do just enough to ensure their spot on the final 53.
Today, we’ll take a look at one player from each position group on offense who has a chance to sneak their way onto the roster. Remember, most of them are longshots, but we’ll make a case for them today.
Backfield - QB Brock Purdy
You have your choice between quarterbacks, running backs, and fullbacks. Sorry Josh Hokit, but there’s only room for one fullback on this roster.
Running back gets interesting as Jeff Wilson is the old man in the room. He turns 27 in November. The trio of Elijah Mitchell, Trey Sermon, and Ty Davis-Price are all locks to make the roster. Unless Wilson doesn’t have any explosion, it’s difficult to imagine my prediction for this year’s “Kory Sheets award,” Jordan Mason, beating him out.
The process of elimination brings us to Brock Purdy. We know Lance is QB1. We also know the 49ers gave Nate Sudfeld $2 million guaranteed, which feels like their way of telling us that’s who the backup is.
If Purdy can prove he brings enough to the table off the field — from preparation in meetings to giving Lance tips on the sidelines — it’s not out of the realm of possibility the team could decide to keep the rookie seventh-rounder over the 29-year-old to be Sudfeld, who leaves plenty to be desired when he takes the field.
Pass catchers - Tay Martin
Here’s an easy prediction: One of the receivers that don’t make the roster will go on and not only make another team but catch passes for them this season.
Is this the year one of the “other” tight ends beats out Ross Dwelley? I believe Charlie Woerner has cemented himself as TE2. Will Jordan Matthews improve in his second full season as a tight end? Kicking a team favorite like Dwelley off the roster is a tall task.
Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Jauan Jennings, Danny Gray, and Ray-Ray McCloud. Those five are locked in. If the Niners end up carrying six wideouts instead of an extra tight end, he’ll have to do a little bit of everything. That includes contributing on special teams to perhaps being the much-needed deep threat the offense could use.
I think that guy is Tay Martin. The rookie out of Oklahoma State isn’t a burner. He ran a 4.59/4.68 at his Pro Day. Martin won’t wow you with size either, as he measured at 6’1” and 184 pounds. But he wins.
Martin is on the older side at 24 but went over 1,000 yards last year for the Cowboys. During the East-West Shrine game practices, Martin owned the 1-on-1 portion of practice. The routes the 49ers love to run, slants, in-breaking routes, and making contested catches down the field, Martin excels at.
I expect Martin to put on a show during the preseason with his athleticism and ball skills, leaving the front office not much of a choice to carry him as the sixth wideout.
Offensive line - Dohnovan West
Finally, the offensive line. This is by far the most difficult projection. We’re unsure who the starters will be, let alone who the backups are. Trent Williams, Aaron Banks, the combination of Jake Brendel/Daniel Brunskill/Jaylon Moore, and Mike McGlinchey. Behind them, I think we can safely project the 2022 draft picks in Spencer Burford and Nick Zakelj.
Knowing the uncertainty at center, I’d lean toward Dohnovan West. Jason Poe will get plenty of love for his jaw-dropping workout videos, but West has the experience and excels in pass protection. There are a few UDFAs the team signed who are above-average athletes, but I think West has the best shot as of today.