It’s cut-down day, as the 49ers and teams around the NFL will be required to trim their rosters down to 53 players by 1 PM pacific time. However, before we get into these projections, I just wanted to take a moment to highlight how rough this day is for a lot of people around the NFL.
People will be forced to say goodbye to teammates, friends, and even family members. This is also the end of the road to a lifelong dream for a lot of these players. I ask that you show some compassion and understanding as many of these individuals are faced with the news they are at the end of their football journeys.
Having said that, here is how I expect the 49ers roster to shake out to start the 2022 season.
Trey Lance, Jimmy Garoppolo
Trey Lance is self-explanatory, we all saw that coming. What nobody saw coming however, was the 49ers restructuring Jimmy Garoppolo’s contract with the intention of having him serve as Lance’s backup.
This entire situation is too much to break down in a roster projection article, but what a turn of events this ended up being. Focusing solely on the football side of things, the 49ers insulated their quarterback room by retaining a proven winner at the position who is familiar with the team as well as the scheme.
With the restructure, the combined 2022 cap hits of Lance and Garoppolo now comes in just north of 16 million. That is less than 13 other quarterbacks in the league on their own, and is more than good value to ensure you have two capable quarterbacks on a roster that is ready to win right now.
I think the 49ers will ultimately keep one of Nate Sudfeld or Brock Purdy on the practice squad, and as of now I would give Purdy the edge based on his cost and the way he has performed in the preseason.
Running Backs (5)
Elijah Mitchell, Jeff Wilson Jr., Trey Sermon, Tyrion Davis-Price, Kyle Juszczyk
The running backs are one of the most challenging position groups to project for a couple of reasons. Number one is that performance in training camp and the preseason aren’t the only factors at play here. The 49ers invested significant draft capital into Sermon and Davis-Price over the last two years, and their positions are all but solidified.
The other is that the roster is so deep that it would be hard to justify carrying six backs at the expense of weakening the depth somewhere else on the roster.
This leaves Jordan Mason and JaMycal Hasty as the odd men out, despite both showing flashes during the preseason. I think Mason gets called up at some point during the season because he is too talented to remain on the practice squad. I just don’t think it happens to start the year.
Wide Receivers (6)
Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Jauan Jennings, Danny Gray, Ray-Ray Mccloud, Malik Turner
Another position group where most of the spots were likely locked up well before we got into the dog days of training camp. Gray has shown explosive upside as a vertical threat, and McCloud is poised to bring tremendous value to the receiving room while moonlighting as the primary returner on special teams.
That left one spot up for grabs, which goes to Turner. Of the remaining options, Turner checks the most boxes. He is a veteran, and he adds value as someone with a track record of contributing on special teams, and possibly most importantly to Shanahan, he practices hard.
Shanahan mentioned Turner was covering as much distance as anyone based on their GPS tracker, something the 49ers head coach has made no secret that he feels is an indicator of how much effort a player is putting out there on the practice field.
Tight Ends (3)
George Kittle, Charlie Woerner, Tyler Kroft
Kittle has that top spot locked down for as long as he would like, and Woerner will all but assuredly make the team as their primary blocking specialist at the position. So that left one spot remaining, which I believe should go to Kroft, a seven-year veteran who has spent time with the Bengals, Bills, and most recently, the Jets last season.
Kroft is a reliable player who has started 48 games in his NFL career. When you’re talking about the third tight end on the roster, dependability is enormously important. This leaves long-time 49er Ross Dwelley off the list, and while I don’t think Dwelley had a lousy preseason, I was more impressed by what I saw from Kroft.
Offensive Line (8)
Trent Williams, Aaron Banks, Jake Brendel, Spencer Burford, Mike McGlinchey, Daniel Brunskill, Colton McKivitz, Jason Poe
The starting five seems pretty set in stone when the entire group is healthy. Daniel Brunskill is a Swiss army knife capable of playing any of the five spots on the line, providing tremendous value as a utility piece with starting experience and the capability to be plugged in anywhere at a moment’s notice.
Colton McKivitz held his own when he filled in for Williams in a must-win game in week 18 last year, and he continued to improve during the preseason. I project McKivitz to be the swing tackle.
This group rounds out with Poe, the rookie interior lineman that quickly became a fan favorite in San Francisco. Poe looks capable of sliding in at either guard spot, and the ability to have McKivitz and Brunskill both play tackle makes it easier to roster a player whose role is likely confined to the interior spots on the line.
Defensive line (11)
Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Javon Kinlaw, Samson Ebukam, Kevin Givens, Hassan Ridgeway, Charles Omenihu, Jordan Willis, Kemoko Turay, Drake Jackson, Kerry Hyder Jr.
This is the deepest position group on the team, full stop. The 49ers have made it clear they will spare no expense when it comes to this unit, and keeping eleven players capable of contributing is on brand for a team that wants to send wave after wave from their defensive front at opposing offenses.
Bosa, Ebukam, Willis, Turay, and Jackson give you a more traditional player playing off the edge. Givens, Ridgeway, and Kinlaw give you a prototype gap stuffer that can play on the interior. Omenihu, Hyder, and Armstead offer the versatility to do both.
This group is stacked, and having the ability to trot out eleven players of this quality should allow the frontline starters to stay fresh late into games and further into the season.
Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw, Azeez Al-Shaair, Oren Burks, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles
The 49ers not only boast the best trio of linebackers in the league, I think they have the best group top to bottom. Warner and his ability to impact all three levels of the defense set the standard for the position in the modern NFL. In addition, Greenlaw and Al-Shaair both possess tremendous range and their ability to operate in space opens things up in a big way for this defense.
Burks is poised to be a leader on a special teams unit in desperate need of one while also showing he can slide in as needed should any of the starting three miss time.
Flannigan-Fowles is a converted safety, and it’s apparent when you see his ability to cover ground in the open field. Flannigan-Fowles looked good when he filled in last season, particularly in the Minnesota game. Having a linebacker that talented to round out the position group is an embarrassment of riches.
Charvarius Ward, Emmanuel Moseley, Samuel Womack, Deommodore Lenoir, Ambry Thomas
The starting unit is strong. So far, Ward looks to be worth every penny and then some that the 49ers shelled out when they signed him in free agency this past offseason. Moseley is one of the better second corners in the entire league, and Womack has rapidly ascended into a starting role after an extremely impressive preseason to start his NFL career.
Lenoir has shown he can step up into a starting role when needed and put together quite a few noteworthy reps during camp practices and preseason games. Finally, Thomas, who fans may not be high on, but the 49ers were when they spent a third-round pick on him just a season ago.
The team saw something they liked when they selected Thomas as high as they did. It’s reasonable to expect that they still believe in their ability to develop Thomas and his plus athletic traits into a valuable contributor on this team moving forward.
Also essential to remember Jason Verrett is on the PUP list, so a decision will have to be made down the line when he is healthy enough to return to action. It just doesn’t affect the cut down to the final 53.
Jimmie Ward, Talanoa Hufanga, George Odum, Tarvarius Moore, Tashaun Gipson
Ward will start the season on injured reserve, but he has to be on the final 53-man roster beforehand. Hufanga looks poised for a starting role as he enters year two, and Moore makes his return after missing last season with a torn Achilles.
Odum is another player who was primarily brought in for their impact on special teams while providing some depth at the position. Gipson is a seasoned veteran with 132 starts under his belt at the NFL level and someone I expect the 49ers to rely on early while Ward starts the season on injured reserve.
Robbie Gould, Mitch Wishnowsky, Taybor Pepper
They are people too! And yes, they count just the same as any other position against the final 53.