The NFL Draft is behind us. We have a better idea about how the 49ers roster will look as we’re a couple of months away from training camp. It’s the beginning of May, but that won’t stop us from making a prediction on who will make the 49ers 53-man roster come Week 1.
Quarterbacks (3) - Brock Purdy, Trey Lance, Sam Darnold
Kyle Shanahan won’t put himself in another position like the NFC Championship in the event of an unforeseen injury, so he’ll make sacrifices at other positions.
The 49ers rolled with three on the active roster to begin this season last year, and 2023 won’t be any different with Purdy and Lance’s inexperience.
Running backs (5) - Christian McCaffrey, Elijah Mitchell, Jordan Mason, Ty Davis-Price, Kyle Juszczyk
The Niners went into Week 1 with six running backs last season, but two of them are no longer on the team in Jeff Wilson Jr. and Trey Sermon. Five is sufficient, especially with Christian McCaffrey doesn’t need to come off the field in any situation.
Mitchell serves as RB2, while Mason and Davis-Price have roles on special teams. Nothing changes for Kyle Juszczyk.
Wide receivers (5): Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, Jauan Jennings, Danny Gray, Ray-Ray McCloud
The five receivers remain unchanged from the majority of last season. Ideally, we see a bigger role from Gray, as he adds a dynamic the other four wideouts don’t have: legitimate deep speed.
Jennings and McCloud may not be long-term answers, which is why you take a flyer on Ronnie Bell in the seventh round. I’m not projecting Bell to make the roster, but stashing him on the practice squad while he develops for a year makes sense.
And if you’re worried about another team poaching Bell, he was selected in the seventh round. Teams had seven separate opportunities to pick him. Barring a breakout preseason, Bell shouldn’t be a high commodity.
Tight ends (4): George Kittle, Ross Dwelley, Cameron Latu, Brayden Willis
Charlie Woerner has seen most of his snaps on special teams. He played 215 snaps on offense last year, but he lacks the requisite athleticism to excel as a TE2, despite being afforded several opportunities last year.
Cutting ties with a former sixth round pick who will be a free agent after this season won’t be difficult in favor of a third-round rookie. Latu gets all the TE2 reps, while Dwelley handles special teams.
Willis makes the roster as he proves to be a mismatch against the linebackers all training camp, while having too much versatility and promise to worth risking losing on the practice squad.
Offensive line (9): Trent Williams, Aaron Banks, Jake Brendel, Spencer Burford, Colton McKivitz, Matt Pryor, Jon Feliciano, Jaylon Moore, Nick Zakelj
The offensive line is straightforward. We have the five starters, with Moore, Feliciano, and Zakelj as the backups, and Pryor serving as a potential starter/hedge at right tackle.
If Banks and Burford progress in their second seasons, San Francisco has four — assuming Jake Brendel play plateaus at worst — quality starters, making it easy for Kyle Shanahan to scheme around the right side. That gets lost in all of the talk about who starts at right tackle.
Defensive line (9): Nick Bosa, Javon Hargrave, Arik Armstead, Drake Jackson, Clelin Ferrell, Javon Kinlaw, Kevin Givens, Kalia Davis, Robert Beal Jr.
I’m going with youth for depth, which may look silly a few months from now. Kerry Hyder is a Kris Kocurek protégé who serves as a veteran and provides leadership you cannot replicate. Hyder can also play inside and out, but he turns 32 today. Though the team re-signed Hyder, they wouldn’t eat any dead money by releasing him during training camp.
I’ll go with the fifth-rounder over Austin Bryant on the edge. T.Y McGill also played meaningful snaps, but my guess is the 49ers go for more explosiveness, both inside and out.
At their best, the 49ers defensive line comes at you with waves of athleticism off the line. Ferrell, Kinlaw, Givens, Davis, and Beal Jr. give them the best opportunity, at least as of today, to continue that.
Linebackers (5): Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, Dee Winters, Marcelino McCrary-Ball
Winters and Flannigan-Fowles feel like safe bets to make the roster, which means the final linebacker spot comes down to McCrary-Ball, seventh round pick Jalen Graham, Curtis Robinson, or an undrafted free agent.
My pick is McCrary-Ball, as he fits the 49ers type at linebacker. A former safety who is a bit undersized, but can run, hit, and has upside in coverage.
Cornerbacks (6): Charvarius Ward, Deommodore Lenoir, Samuel Womack, Isaiah Oliver, Myles Hartsfield, Darrell Luter Jr.
Darrell Luter Jr. is another pick that’s not someone you want to risk losing on the practice squad. He’ll be a special-teamer while developing behind the scenes. It’s no guarantee Womack is on the roster, but his positional flexibility, much like Hartsfield, gives them a leg up over the press-man cornerback that’s a rookie.
Oliver can play in the slot or on the outside or in the slot if needed. Hartsfield just played in Steve Wilks’ system, so I give him the familiarity advantage.
Lenoir played inspiring football down the stretch. It’ll be interesting to see if he can hold up in a single-high scheme that Wilks’ favors. Ambry Thomas, the third-round pick from 2021, hasn’t given the Niners a reason to give him a roster spot. That could change come training camp, but these are who I’d bet on making the roster at cornerback.
Safeties (4): Tashaun Gipson, Talanoa Hufanga, George Odum, Ji’Ayir Brown
This is the easiest position to predict since the starters are set in stone, Shanahan has referred to Odum as the best special teams player in the league, and the team traded up for Brown.
Specialists (3): Jake Moody, Mitch Wishnowsky, Taybor Pepper
It’ll take some time to get used to not typing Robbie Gould at kicker. The Zane Gonzalez trade felt like the 49ers protecting themselves if the board didn’t fall their way, and they couldn’t select a kicker.