• Shelly Holt

Early 49ers 53-Man Projection Halfway Through Preseason

Image Credit: Robin Alam/ICON Sportswire/Getty Images

The September 1st deadline is quickly approaching for NFL teams to cut their rosters down from 90 to 53 players.

Luckily, the 49ers roster looks mostly set. A large portion of the projected starters are expected to be ready for the season opener on September 9, despite several sitting out exhibition playing time through the middle of preseason.

But backups and those on the bump have not fared as well. A number of roster hopefuls who saw preseason playing time have been dinged up, further jeopardizing their chances of making the team.

So, who’s likely to stay and who’s probably out the door? Check out my 49ers smack-in-the-middle of the preseason projection of the 53-man roster below.

Quarterback (2): Jimmy Garoppolo, C.J. Beathard

I like what I’ve seen from the improved Nick Mullens in the preseason so far. But, it’s hard to imagine that San Francisco will keep him on the roster or jump him over Beathard into the backup spot when so much has been invested in the 2017 third-round draftee handpicked by Shanahan. The only hope Mullens has is that Beathard’s foot sprain, which he experienced during last week’s contest with Houston, is worse than originally thought.

Running Backs (4): Jerick McKinnon, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, Alfred Morris

With the top two starters experiencing preseason injuries (McKinnon – calf; Breida – shoulder) and hopeful Joe Williams fracturing a rib last week in Houston, the 49ers signed free agent Alfred Morris last week to provide more depth for its potential running back corps. The 29-year old Morris has previous experience with Shanahan in Washington, which bodes well for his case. Of course, his chances decrease if the Niners decide not to keep four backs on the roster. But, it’s likely they will as injury issues circle around the starters.

Fullback (1): Kyle Juszczyk

General Manager John Lynch has described 27-year old Harvard grad Juszczyk as an “offensive weapon.” And, given that the team signed him to the largest contract for a fullback in NFL history last season, it’s safe to say San Francisco believes in Juszczyk’s abilities and his versatility to help the team. The six-year veteran flourished when Garoppolo was under center last season and belief is that he will continue to do so in 2018.

Wide Receivers (6): Pierre Garçon, Marquise Goodwin, Kendrick Bourne, Dante Pettis, Trent Taylor, Richie James

This is probably one of the most competitive position battles coming down to the last spots, one favoring 2018 hseventh-round draft pick Richie James over Aaron Burbridge, who is known for his special teams abilities. It’s a guessing game as to who Shanahan and company will choose. For now, the tryouts continue as San Francisco heads to Indianapolis this week and then host the Chargers on August 30.

Tight End (3): George Kittle, Garrett Celek, Cole Hikutini

The Niners will likely keep three spots open for tight end like they did last year. Kittle and Celek are locks and Hikutini will be the reserve. However, as fellow 49ersHub writer Bret Rumbeck indicated earlier this week, Hikutini has struggled with run-blocking this preseason and it could cost him a spot on the roster, especially if Shanahan shaves this position down to two spots. Personally, I haven’t seen much to think Hikutini is a slam-dunk due to his being injury-prone and his issues with blocking. Yet, he has a receiver skill-set, speed and the size to add to the versatility that Shanahan likes.

Offensive Line (8): Weston Richburg, Joe Staley, Mike McGlinchey, Garry Gilliam, Mike Person, Laken Tomlinson, Jonathan Cooper, Joshua Garnett

Just a couple of weeks ago, it was unclear where Garnett and Cooper would stand with the team due to injuries. But, both guards practiced together and played well in Houston last week, enhancing their chances of making the 49ers roster. Meanwhile, Erik Magnuson sustained a hamstring injury and is likely to be put on the injured reserve list. And, even with all the mixing and matching the O-Line has done this offseason, at least the pass protection has been stellar: none of the Niners quarterbacks were sacked during the 75 combined pass attempts in the first two preseason games.

Defensive Line (10): DeForest Buckner, Solomon Thomas, Arik Armstead, Earl Mitchell, Cassius Marsh, Ronald Blair, Sheldon Day, D.J. Jones, Jeremiah Attaochu, Jullian Taylor

This is one position the 49ers have a lot of depth and talent in its reserves. The backups have shined in the preseason with Day and Jones earning high marks from Pro Football Focus after last week’s preseason game with Houston. But, question marks surround Armstead’s hamstring health which is a problem for the team and its continued pass-rushing issues.

Linebacker (6): Malcolm Smith, Fred Warner, Brock Coyle, Dekoda Watson, Korey Toomer, Pita Taumoepenu. (Suspension: Reuben Foster)

The position battle for a new starter at the Sam linebacker position just became more interesting as the 49ers traded starter Eli Harold to the Detroit Lions on Thursday for a conditional seventh-round pick in 2020. A Baalke holdover, Harold had underachieved, but was expected to remain a starter for the 49ers this season. Taumoepenu and Watson are options to replace the four-year veteran.

Defensive Back (10): Richard Sherman, Akhello Witherspoon, Jaquiski Tartt, K’Waun Williams, Adrian Colbert, Jimmie Ward, Tarvarius Moore, D.J. Reed, Greg Mabin, Marcell Harris

Having not played in the preseason yet, Sherman will finally see exhibition playing time this week. If all is well with him, the cornerback position will feel more solidified and the team may carry five, rather than six cornerbacks. But, likely, they will keep six and bring along Jimmie Ward who has struggled in the first two preseason games. For safety, it looks like Marcell Harris is headed towards injured reserve with a hamstring issue, but that is up in the air at this point. Quite possibly, he goes to the practice squad instead.

Specialists (3): Robbie Gould, Kyle Nelson, Bradley Pinion

The veteran kicker Gould and long-snapper Nelson are locks. The only question would be the punter Pinion who is in competition with Jeff Locke, the six-year veteran the Niners signed in March to a one-year contract. Pinion had his best year in 2017 and is a very good kicker as well as punter. He is also in his last year of his rookie contract. Likely, the 49ers will give him an extension soon, as he was considered a key part of the special teams last year, one of the “bright spots” of this team mentioned by PFF last season.


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