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5 winners from the preseason: Sam Darnold’s numbers will surprise you

We all know about Ronnie Bell, but the free agent newcomers stole the show this preseason

Los Angeles Chargers v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

As we wait for the 49ers to finalize their roster cuts, let’s take a look at the team’s biggest winners from this preseason. These are the players who took full advantage of their opportunities, and earned a spot on the final 53-man roster.

Sam Darnold

All offseason, whether you follow the 49ers or don’t, the battle between Sam Darnold and Trey Lance was talked about non-stop. The national media continued to suggest that Darnold had a leg-up on Lance, while others refused to give up on the Niners 2021 first round pick.

In the end, Darnold made it clear that he was the best man for the backup job. It’s worth noting that Darnold is also a better fit for scout team quarterback — a job where you need to run a different offense each week.

Darnold had 33 attempts this preseason. He completed 22 of those. But get this, of those 11 incompletions, PFF considered all of them drops. He only put the ball in harm’s way once, and proved capable of making throws when there’s pressure in his face.

Darnold was consistently the first or second-best quarterback on the team, whether in a game or in practice. He has a history of failing under different circumstances, Sam won the job this offseason.

Clelin Ferrell

Kris Kocurek should ask for a raise if Ferrell’s preseason play continues into the regular season.

Ferrell only played 39 snaps, but that’s because the coaching staff didn’t need to see any more from the former Raider. Ferrell got credit for three pressures, including a sack, and added a pair of run stops.

It seemed like every series Ferrell played, and we’re talking maybe four or five series during the preseason, he made a play. I think it’s telling that Ferrell played so little. That’s what you do when you’re sure of a player during the preseason.

Will Ferrell be this year’s Charles Omenihu? Those are lofty expectations to put on somebody. But if he and Drake Jackson come close to Omenihu’s 2022 production, the 49ers will be in good hands this year.

Matt Pryor

Offensive line is a thankless position. The only time they’re mentioned is when something goes wrong. The 49ers signed Pryor this past offseason after spending two years with the Colts, where he played left and right tackle, as well as right guard last year. During the preseason, Pryor has played every snap at right tackle.

To me, Pryor feels like the perfect Plan B if Colton McKivitz isn’t ready. Pryor has started in the NFL and right tackle isn’t a new position for him.

In 43 pass blocking snaps, Pryor allowed one sack and zero quarterback hits. Friday’s game against the Chargers was his best showing yet. Above all, Pryor showed the competitiveness you’re looking for at the position, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him on the field at some point this season.

That’s three newcomers on the list. Let’s add a pair of rookies.

Dee Winters

Not the rookie linebacker most would choose, and not even a player I had making the final roster. That doesn’t mean he won’t contribute to this team at some point. I went with Winters over Jalen Graham because Winters made more plays when he was in the game.

Winters had five run stops compared to Graham’s six, but Graham also played 24 more running plays, but only made one more tackles. Winters was superior in pass coverage, as Graham would get caught out of position, which would lead to yards after the catch for the offense.

I’d take Marcelino McCrary-Ball over both, but if we’re comparing rookies, give me the player who made more plays in coverage, and the overall better athlete. Winters may need some time on the practice squad to get used to the physicality of the game, but he’s not far off.

Ronnie Bell

Two costly drops that led to interceptions can’t be ignored, but they can be forgiven. That is, if you do something else to make up for it. The 49ers wide receivers forced 11 missed tackles during the preseason. Bell was responsible for five of those.

Bell led the team in receiving yards, yards after the catch, first downs, and was among the league leaders at his position in each of these stats, too.

The most encouraging part about Bell’s game was seeing him win at multiple levels. He caught a deep pass for 37 yards. But he wrecked shop at the intermediate level, and even showed off some acceleration in Week 2 on a crossing route. Bell also caught two screen passes and broke four tackles en route to two first downs.

Bell is a gamer.