Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
Following the conclusion of OTAs the 49ers will have a short break before the start of their training camp. The 90-man roster is set and the front office and coaching staff are surely already evaluating players and preparing for roster cut downs. Earlier in the offseason, talent was retained, signed, and drafted.
Heading into their third training camp, it would be safe to say that the team is now Shanahan’s, as only 10 players remain from team he inherited from Chip Kelly. With the team now fully made in Shanahan’s vision, what positions appear deepest heading into year three?
Roster Locks: Dante Pettis, Deebo Samuel, Jalen Hurd, Marquise Goodwin
The 49ers spent second-round picks on receivers in the last two drafts. Pettis showed flashes last season but missed significant time due to injuries. Samuel may have been the most obvious choice in the draft of any of the 32 teams, the coaching staff fell in love with him at the Senior Bowl and he’s shown the ability to separate that Shanahan loves. Hurd was a little of a surprise pick in the third round, he’s a big slot receiver that team didn’t have on the roster but is expected to be a project since he’s played receiver for only one year after a transition from running back. Goodwin dealt with multiple injuries and family tragedy last year that derailed his season. He’s not viewed as a roster lock by everyone but he possesses something that no other receiver on the roster has: blazing speed, with Goodwin taking the top off the defense it allows other players to gobble up yards after the catch.
Bubble players: Kendrick Bourne, Trent Taylor, Jordan Matthews, Richie James
Kendrick Bourne lead all receivers with 42 catches for 487 yards, not exactly statistics that frighten opposing defensive backs. Taylor played in 14 games but was severely limited all season with complications from offseason back surgery. Taylor was Jimmy Garoppolo’s favorite third-down target in 2017 and that fact may keep him on the roster. Matthews was a sneaky free agent acquisition, the veteran was immediately the biggest receiver on the roster prior to Hurd’s selection. He has the potential to be the red zone target that the Niners have lacked the last two seasons, with 16 of his career 22 touchdowns coming from inside the 20 yard line. James was a seventh-round selection last year and beat the odds to make the 2018 roster. But with a depleted receiver group James failed to carve out a role, amassing only nine catches for 130 yards. Outside of Robbie Gould, James was the largest contributor on special teams with 655 return yards highlighted by a 97-yard kickoff return against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 15.
Interior Defensive Line
Roster Locks: DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, Solomon Thomas, D.J. Jones.
Buckner is currently the best player on San Francisco’s defense, and is one of the best defensive tackles in the league. He posted a career high 12.5 sacks last year on the way to making his first Pro Bowl. The 49ers picked up Armstead’s fifth-year option and are paying him just a shade over $9 million this year. Armstead was able to stay healthy last year, and his play showed. Solomon Thomas, the number-three pick in 2017, had, in his own words, “worst season ever in my life.” Thomas lost his older sister Ella to suicide in January 2018 and the tragedy affected him all season. Difficulty focusing and still adjusting to a new position Thomas often left the stat sheet blank and was left off the field during crunch time. With the addition of defensive ends Dee Ford and Nick Bosa, Thomas and Armstead will see increased time in the middle and should benefit from lining up next to Buckner. Jones is the team’s only true nose guard, but in today’s NFL it’s sometimes viewed as a dying position given that teams are only in their base personnel about 30% of the time.
Bubble players: Sheldon Day, Jullian Taylor, Ronald Blair, Kentavius Street
Day was a savvy waiver wire pickup by general manager John Lynch; he stepped in immediately as the primary back up to Buckner. Day has proven himself to be a valuable piece of the defensive line rotation able to spell either interior line position. Outside of Buckner, Blair was the teams best pass rusher last year, with the ability to play either outside or inside, Blair has carved out a nice spot for himself. Taylor and Street are both second-year players but that’s where the similarities end. Taylor was a preseason star last year but had trouble making the active roster on Sundays. Street -- “Baby Hulk,” as he’s called -- tore his ACL in a pre draft workout for the New York Giants, and missed all of last season, but seems ready to go heading into training camp. He played mostly defensive end at N.C. State but has the size and athleticism to move inside.
Shanahan has said that the goal of roster building is to cut players that can catch on with other teams. After three offseasons it seems that’s where this roster is. While some of these players won’t make the 49ers roster, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them pulling on another jersey on Sundays.
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