The 53-man roster projection we made for the 49ers earlier this month will look a little different today as Trey Lance is now a Dallas Cowboy. One of the biggest questions surrounding the 49ers final roster was how keeping three quarterbacks would impact other positions. Now, keeping more than two quarterbacks has been removed from the equation, right? Not so fast.
Quarterbacks (3) - Brock Purdy, Sam Darnold, Brandon Allen
Purdy looks ready to play if there were a game tomorrow. We even saw a bit of his athleticism in the preseason finale. Sam Darnold won the backup competition job with several impressive throws during the preseason, but he was more comfortable the more he played in Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
Allen was the Niners hedge if Lance didn’t work out this offseason. Now that the NFL allows for an emergency quarterback, Allen will dress in the event of both Purdy and Darnold. The good news is Allen won’t count against the Niners active game-day roster. But after last year, San Francisco was always going to keep a third quarterback.
Running backs (5) - Christian McCaffrey, Kyle Juszczyk, Elijah Mitchell, Ty Davis-Price, Jordan Mason
This may be the easiest positional group on the team to project. McCaffrey is the best player on this side of the ball, but the 49ers will rely on depth throughout the season to ensure CMC makes it into January healthy.
Mitchell was injured for the second time this month during last week’s practice, which heightens the importance of last year’s rookie backs Davis-Price and Mason. Both TDP and Mason must improve in the passing game so the Niners offense doesn’t tip their hand when a non-McCaffrey runner is in the game.
Wide receivers (6) - Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, Jauan Jennings, Danny Gray, Ray-Ray McCloud, Ronnie Bell
An injury to Ray-Ray McCloud opened the door for another wideout to sneak onto the roster. McCloud is likely to miss the first couple of weeks of the season with a broken wrist. Depending on the severity of McCloud’s injury, the 49ers may be forced to place him on the injured reserve. Danny Gray has a sprained shoulder that could sideline him for the first week, but not much longer after that.
After a week of training camp, it didn’t look like rookie Ronnie Bell had much of a shot at making the initial 53-man roster.
But Bell was the third-leading receiver in the NFL this preseason, averaging 17 yards per reception and showing enough versatility to run routes in the slot. Bell averaged 8.4 yards after the catch and tied for a league high with five forced missed tackles among all receivers in the preseason.
That is the definition of taking advantage of your opportunities. Was Bell perfect? Far from it, but his positives outweighed the negatives, and showing the ability to return punts and kicks cements Bell’s spot on the roster.
Tight ends (4) - George Kittle, Charlie Woerner, Ross Dwelley, Cameron Latu
I’ve consistently left Woerner off the 53-man roster this offseason, assuming that rookies Cameron Latu or Brayden Willis would make the former sixth-round pick expendable. That hasn’t been the case.
Willis is still a year away from being able to contribute, while Latu isn’t far behind. Latu’s meniscus injury could throw a curveball to what the final roster looks like, but it’d be a bad look to cut your third-round pick after one preseason.
Offensive line (8) - Trent Williams, Aaron Banks, Jake Brendel, Spencer Burford, Colton McKivitz, Jon Feliciano, Matt Pryor, Jaylon Moore
After one preseason game, it looked like undrafted free agent Ilm Manning had a shot, or Keith Ismael. But it’s difficult to justify either of them, Jason Poe, or Leroy Watson on the active roster after the tape they put out during the preseason.
It’s a risky proposition going with eight offensive linemen, but Jon Feliciano and Matt Pryor can play multiple positions. The 49ers would be wise to rely on a veteran group along the offensive line.
Defensive line (10) - Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Javon Hargrave, Clelin Ferrell, Drake Jackson, Javon Kinlaw, Kevin Givens, Austin Bryant, Kerry Hyder Jr., Robert Beal Jr.
Ten may seem like a lot, but there’s no guarantee that Bosa will report by Tuesday. So the 49ers may elect to play it “safe” and roll with an extra defensive lineman. Depending on when Bosa does report, he may wind up playing Week 1 on a pitch count.
The Niners are at their best when they can come at teams with waves of defensive linemen, and that’s what we have here. The addition of Hargrave takes the pressure off Kinlaw to be a pass rusher. Between Givens, Ferrell, and the rest of the backups, the 49ers head into the season with another deep, deep group here.
Linebackers (5) - Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, Marcelino McCrary-Ball, Jalen Graham
This is the position I’m most interested in seeing playing out. The starters aren’t in question, but between McCrary-Ball, Graham, and Dee Winters, there are three players fighting for two spots.
You may notice that Oren Burks is missing. In the same vein as Taco Charlton, the 49ers, hypothetically, come to an injury settlement with Burks and waive him. That frees up $2.5 million, and allows the team to get younger and cheaper at the position.
Dee Winters lasted to the sixth-round, so the 49ers shouldn’t have an issue with getting him through to the practice squad. Graham has received plenty of hype from the fans, and defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, but I like McCrary-Ball more. His coverage skills are outstanding, and I think MMB is closer to playing than Winters or Graham.
Cornerbacks (5) - Charvarius Ward, Deommodore Lenoir, Ambry Thomas, Isaiah Oliver, Samuel Womack
I had high hopes for D’Shawn Jamison, but he’s more of a practice squad player at this point. Darrell Luter Jr. didn’t step onto the practice field all month due to injury, which allowed players like Womack and Thomas to reclaim a role.
A cornerback by committee is out of the question after Isaiah Oliver looked like the player San Francisco hoped they signed in Free agency. Oliver allowed two receptions, but they only went for six total yards, and he didn’t miss a tackle this time. Plus, Oliver made three run stops.
Expect Thomas and Oliver to play quite a bit this year, and I wouldn’t rule out Womack, either. I thought Womack was excellent this preseason.
Safeties (4) - Talanoa Hufanga, Tashaun Gipson, George Odum, Ji’Ayir Brown
Projecting the safeties is up there with running backs as far as getting the right answers goes.
Odum suffered a shoulder sprain a couple of weeks ago, which could lead to Qwuantrezz Knight or Jamison being on the active roster Week 1. But the team raves about Odum’s special teams prowess, so his spot is safe when healthy.
Specialists (3) - Jake Moody, Mitch Wishnowsky, Taybor Pepper
Shanahan isn’t certain that Moody will be ready for the Steelers game, as he’s nursing a right quad strain. We know Zane Gonzalez isn’t an option, as he’s out a few weeks with a right calf strain that he injured during pre-game warm-ups Friday night.
Good luck convincing Robbie Gould to sign a contract after the team kicked him to the curb in favor of a rookie. One of the most entertaining organizations in the league keeps finding ways to hold our interest, having two injured kickers two weeks before the start of the regular season is as 49ers as it gets.