Ahead of Week 18, the 49ers have already clinched the No. 1 seed, but are expected to play a majority of their starters in some capacity. Still, they’re resting several players, which should allow for some to get an increased role against the Rams.
With that said, here are seven players to watch for in the Week 18 matchup between the 49ers and the Rams.
RB Jordan Mason
Running back Christian McCaffrey is one of the six 49ers who are expected not to play on Sunday, as the star has been battling a calf injury that caused him to miss a majority of the second half against the Washington Commanders last weekend.
With McCaffrey out, backups Elijah Mitchell and Jordan Mason are expected to take on a majority of the carries at running back.
Mitchell has seen 61 carries this season, with 17 coming last week as the feature back, but Mason hasn’t seen much volume this season, rushing for just 34 attempts.
Still, in those 34 rushes, Mason has averaged five yards per carry, and has been a hard, physical runner with the football.
In what should be an expanded role on Sunday, Mason is one to watch for the 49ers, as he rushed for 69 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries against the Dallas Cowboys earlier this year in his lone, higher-volume game.
WR Jauan Jennings
Jauan Jennings has missed the past two weeks due to a concussion, and the 49ers have felt his presence missing as that third receiver who does all the little things for the team.
Jennings is questionable for this weekend’s contest, and would be a welcomed addition back on the field, should he be able to go.
With a two-week grace period between their next game, it would be good to get the wideout’s feet warm again ahead of the playoffs, where he could get integrated once again as a receiver and a blocker.
Ray-Ray McCloud was another option here, as his practice window was activated, and he’s currently questionable with a rib injury. McCloud has missed over a month with his injury, and would be a huge gain for the return game ahead of the playoffs.
CBs Darrell Luter/Samuel Womack
I’ll loop both players in here, as it’s unclear whether both will get playing time on Sunday, but I’m very intrigued to see the development of both cornerbacks and how it translates to the field.
Luter, a fifth-round selection in the 2023 NFL Draft, was a good fit for the press-man defense. He played 12 defensive snaps against the Arizona Cardinals, and could be in line to earn more than that on Sunday.
Womack, on the other hand, was the 49ers fifth-round selection in 2022, and also played 12 defensive snaps against Arizona, which was his season-high.
Both players could be key depth pieces for the 49ers in 2024, and Sunday provides the biggest look into their development all season.
Starting corner Ambry Thomas isn’t playing this weekend after having surgery on his hand, which means that the 49ers will rely on their depth more in the game.
Additionally, I don’t expect Charvarius Ward and Deommodore Lenoir to carry many reps in this game, allowing time for the young defensive backs to see the field.
DT Sebastian Joseph-Day
One of the 49ers’ more recent additions, Sebastian Joseph-Day could be an impact player for San Francisco off the bench in the playoffs.
Signed to the roster less than two weeks ago, Joseph-Day saw 24 percent of the defensive snaps against the Commanders, and could be in line for more action with Arik Armstead out again against the Rams.
Joseph-Day is in pristine shape, having played the full season with the Los Angeles Chargers, and now gets his best chance to get acclimated with the 49ers in Week 18 with what should be a bigger role.
The Badgers will rely on their defensive line depth in the playoffs, and are battling some injuries, which makes the addition of Joseph-Day more vital.
Now, he’ll get a bigger opportunity to showcase his talents in what should be a backup-heavy game in Week 18.
LBs Dee Winters/Jalen Graham
Neither of San Francisco’s starting linebackers are expected to sit, but that doesn’t mean they’ll play heavily in Week 18.
That should allow a window of opportunity for rookie linebackers Dee Winters and Jalen Graham, who have primarily been on special-teams duty this season.
Winters has seen action in 14 games, playing a career-high 12 defensive snaps against the Cardinals in Week 15, while Graham has played in just three games.
It’s tough for the 49ers’ backup linebackers to see the field throughout the year, given the talent, as well as experienced depth, that the team has at the position.
But, Sunday provides an opportunity for both of their rookie linebackers to showcase their development over the year in what should be a bigger role.