While the majority of the 49ers starters did not suit up for this one, there was still plenty to take away from the 49ers
1. There are going to be tough decisions at the running back position.
There is no clarity right now about how the 49ers backfield is going to shake out. Elijah Mitchell is a lock for a final spot and likely gets the nod as the number one back if he is healthy by week one, but even that is not a given at this point.
Jeff Wilson Jr. missed his second consecutive preseason game but also is a player who provides the 49ers with a strong veteran presence at the position, something that is coveted by Kyle Shanahan. Despite his absence from these preseason contests, I expect Wilson to be among the players on the final 53.
Beyond that is where things really get dicey. Trey Sermon was a top 100 pick a little over one year ago, but if it weren’t for the capital invested in him, it would be hard to make a case for him being more deserving of a roster spot over the other players on the bubble.
Back to this game, where Ty Davis-Price and Jordan Mason both had strong showings against the Vikings. Davis-Price had ten carries for 41 yards and showed off a level of physicality that would indicate he is a strong candidate to be the battering ram at the position in games where the 49ers will be running the ball to milk clock with a lead.
Jordan Mason looked fantastic, averaging 6.3 yards per carry on nine rushing attempts while showing off the ability to run with conviction and finish through contact. It’s more than the power with Mason, though, he has a great feel for when to make decisive cuts in this zone running scheme, and if roster spots were given out solely based on performance, he would be all but a lock given how he has performed in the training camp and preseason.
JaMycal Hasty had a receiving touchdown as well, running an excellent choice route out of the backfield to beat the linebacker in coverage. Generally, the 49ers keep five running backs on the final roster, with one of those spots being reserved for Kyle Juszczyk.
The 49ers might have to consider keeping six this year because there will be at least one, if not two, talented backs who get left out if they stick to the status quo at five. I don’t like their odds of stashing a player like Mason on the practice squad either. I would not risk betting that he makes it through waivers.
Either way, there are going to be some tough calls to make. At this point, maybe you do field some calls on Sermon if another team is interested, but I would be genuinely surprised if they outright cut a player they invested so heavily in just one season ago. Hopefully, the third preseason game provides some much-needed transparency with the entire situation.
2. Javon Kinlaw flashes his pro bowl ceiling
It was one sack in a preseason game, so I don’t blame anyone for rolling their eyes at the aforementioned subheading. But allow me to explain why. Kinlaw is a player who has immense physical talent and has leaned heavily on those athletic traits early on in his NFL career.
My take with Kinlaw has always been that he will have a rapid ascent once he gets more reps in the league and can improve on things like hand placement, pad level, etc. We got a great example of the development that had come with more reps when he sacked Kellen Mond on a 3rd & 7 late in the first quarter.
Kinlaw was able to beat the right guard to the inside with a club move, striking the guard on their inside shoulder and using his superhuman strength to move the guard laterally before charging through the A gap to bring Mond down.
This was a great example of Kinlaw being able to tie in his elite athleticism and raw power together with sound technique in regards to his hand placement, and the result was him absolutely demolishing an interior offensive lineman en route to a sack in the backfield.
These are the kind of plays Kinlaw is capable of, and they are going to come in greater numbers the more comfortable he gets in his role going forward. Remember, he missed a huge chunk of his first two years due to some unfortunate injuries, and the time missed stole a large portion of the time he would have spent developing early on in his NFL career.
Kinlaw is a special player, and there is a reason why the 49ers drafted him where they did. He showed you a glimpse into what he is capable of in this league with that sack against the Vikings, and it will be interesting to watch how the narrative around Kinlaw shifts now that he is healthy and going into the season looking like someone who is playing with a weight lifted off their shoulders.
Drake Jackson was an absolute steal
There is no reason Drake Jackson should have still been on the board when the 49ers took him late in the second round of the 2022 NFL draft. Maybe teams were concerned with his weight being down or didn’t have the patience to develop someone who has great traits but appeared to possibly need a semi-redshirt year to start out.
Whatever the reason was, it’s not good enough to justify Jackson falling into the 49ers' lap, where they already had an embarrassment of riches on the deepest defensive line in the league. However, through two preseason games, Jackson has shown that he not only has a high ceiling that can be reached through a methodical development plan, but he also is ready to make a contribution right away.
His ability to operate in space, fill run fits, and just be a disruptive presence overall is extremely encouraging for a player who is still far away from reaching their physical potential. Jackson has the ability to develop into an above-average starter in this league, and that might come much sooner than expected.
Pair that with an already talented 49ers defensive front and the future remains bright for the position group that is the engine that makes this squad go.
4. The backup quarterbacks look good
Nate Sudfeld and Brock Purdy combined to go 27/40 for 230 yards, one touchdown, and zero interceptions. While I wouldn’t put too much stock into a preseason game against second and third-stringers, you also can only play who is in front of you.
Besides a mishap near the goal line by Purdy, I thought the pair of quarterbacks did what they needed to in this game. Both clearly look comfortable operating in this offense and have displayed an ability to get the ball to where it needs to go within their progressions at a level that is encouraging for players that will be buried behind Trey Lance on the depth chart.
While it won’t garner the same level of excitement as the discussion around QB1, having a capable backup on the roster can be the difference between being a playoff team or missing the cut, as 49ers fans have seen over the last couple of seasons. The 49ers have a pair of guys who both fit that mold.
Robbie Gould and Mitch Wishnowsky have strong games
I can imagine someone reading this saying “how much of a snoozer was this game for special teams to be a standout in a preseason game.” While I wouldn’t push back too hard on that assessment, I also think the specialists deserve recognition with performances like that, regardless of whether it being an exhibition game or not.
Robbie Gould was 3/3 on the day, drilling kicks from 49, 46, and 28 yards, respectively. Gould continues to be one of the most reliable legs in the sport and is a massive asset to this 49ers team with championship aspirations. Having a kicker like Gould, who has shown he has ice water in his veins in big moments, is something that should never be overlooked.
Mitch Wishnowsky had himself a day as well, booting four punts for a net total of 210 yards, with a long of 59. Two of these punts landed inside the Minnesota 20-yard line, including a ball that was downed inside the Vikings' one-yard line. Very strong day from the 49ers specialist group, and I also have to give a quick nod to long snapper Taybor Pepper for his role in the success of the special teams unit in Minnesota.