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49ers positional confidence check, Week 1: 170 million reasons to be confident

Andrew goes through each positional group on the team, determining whether we should have a low, medium, or high confidence level.

San Francisco 49ers v Chicago Bears Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

We’ve made it. We’re finally there. No more training camp battles or preseason games; it’s all meaningful football from here. The San Francisco 49ers open their 2023 season on Sunday in Pittsburgh against the Steelers. A lot happened over the seven weeks of camp and preseason: players earning spots, roster cuts, and even a trade.

With kickoff just around the corner, let’s have another confidence check of the 2023 49ers:

Quarterback: Medium confidence

The all-important QB2 conversation was settled with Sam Darnold being named the backup and Trey Lance getting traded to Dallas. Now, all eyes return to Brock Purdy.

Purdy’s rookie season has been well-documented, stepping in for an injured Jimmy Garoppolo and playing a part in the 49ers finishing 2022 on a 10-game winning streak. He must now prove that 2022 was more than just a flash in the pan while proving his right elbow will have no limitations.

Kyle Shanahan has given every stamp of approval to Purdy, from holding his spot as the starter all summer to calling him the “real deal.” Purdy has the upside, but a six-game sample size is too quick to have complete confidence in the second-year quarterback.

Running back: High confidence

Most things have stayed the same at the position since we last looked at it, but Tyrion Davis-Price and Jordan Mason saw plenty of reps over training camp and the preseason. Christian McCaffrey and likely Elijah Mitchell will see most of the carries, but the two second-yard running backs are great depth options.

Wide receiver: High confidence

I mentioned before training camp that behind Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and Jauan Jennings, the 49ers had some unproven talent and some questions.

Ronnie Bell was the answer.

Bell finished the preseason with ten receptions on 15 targets for 172 yards and a pair of drops. Of his 172 yards, 84 came after the catch, as Bell looked impressive as a ball carrier. While it was just the preseason, the 49ers needed to see something out of the plethora of depth receivers it had, and Bell delivered.

Samuel, Aiyuk, and Jennings are established, and now, with what was seen from Bell in the preseason, the receiving corps has the chance to be the deepest of the Shanahan era.

Tight end: Medium confidence

The 49ers used two draft picks to try to reshape their tight end room and ended up with the same tight end room as 2022 but with an added name: George Kittle, Ross Dwelley, Charlie Woerner, and rookie Brayden Willis.

Having a top-two tight end in the league makes the position feel better, but the 49ers have struggled to find a second tight end behind Kittle. Willis adds a new name, but the tight end room is a known entity and the depth leads to some concern.

Offensive line: Medium confidence

Speaking of depth being a concern. The bad news is that the offensive line could have looked better in the preseason. The good news is the starters didn’t play much, so there wasn’t much to judge regarding what the regular season will look like.

The two biggest questions entering the regular season are what Spencer Burford will look like with a full workload and what Colton McKivitz can offer on the right side of the line. Outside of those, the goal for the offensive line is to stay healthy and not test that depth, but that feels like it should be a given at any position in the NFL.

Defensive line: High confidence

The 49ers gave me, the fans, and most importantly, Nick Bosa 170 million reasons to have complete confidence in the defensive line. Had Bosa not signed his extension on Wednesday, the 49ers would have entered Week 1 with Clelin Ferrell and Drake Jackson as its two pass rushers, but now, with Bosa back in the mix, the position has been shored up.

Add Javon Hargrave into the mix and the 49ers now have a bonafide pass rusher on the edge and the interior. How it’ll work out is still up in the air, but it’s sure as hell of a lot better than finding out what the line would look like without Bosa, even if it had been for just one game.

Linebacker: High confidence

Any four linebackers not named Fred Warner or Dre Greenlaw have legitimate cases to be LB3; that’s just how deep this group is. Oren Burks is presumed the third linebacker behind Warner and Greenlaw. Still, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles has had flashes in his limited snaps, and Dee Winters and Jalen Graham both played well and earned their way onto the 53-man roster.

Azeez Al-Shaair will be tough to replace, but the 49ers have plenty of quality options.

Cornerback: Low confidence

It’s a solid group, don’t get me wrong. Charvarius Ward is excellent, Deommodore Lenoir and Samuel Womack have shown promise, Ambry Thomas had a good preseason, and Isaiah Oliver was a priority free agent. Still, there’s much to prove from this group.

Once again, Ward is very good, but beyond that, Lenoir is coming off his first season as a starter, where he played well, but he might play more nickel than on the outside in 2023. Womack only played 146 snaps in his rookie season. Thomas has had his issues in the past. Oliver has seen an increasing missed tackle percentage each of the last three seasons and had his struggles in the preseason.

I wouldn’t be shocked if you told me I have high confidence in this group in six weeks when we revisit. This group has the potential to play its way into that. But for now, there’s not enough experience or depth to feel confident in it yet.

Safety: High confidence

The back end of the secondary, however, feels set. Talanoa Hufanga and Tashaun Gipson combined for nine interceptions last season and were the ball-hawking safety duo the defense had been missing. Ji’Ayir Brown was a sure tackler in the preseason with two goal-line tackles that prevented two potential touchdowns, and he will see plenty of snaps as the third safety.

Special teams: Low confidence

The group got a boost with Ray-Ray McCloud cleared to practice on Wednesday, but it was a rough preseason for the special teams. Jake Moody had his misses, Mitch Wishnowsky had a game in the preseason where his three punts went a combined 95 yards, and the coverage teams had several penalties.

Special teams have been a concern for a few seasons, and the preseason didn’t instill much confidence.