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The preseason is primarily for coaches to figure out how their depth chart will look after they’ve cut their players down to the 53-man active roster. Many starters don’t play much, and that means there are often times when backups make a good case to supplant starters, while playing against other backups. Sometimes players who went undrafted or who fans just simply don’t know flash into the spotlight and Twitter among all the other social media sites goes crazy about how great a player many haven’t heard of is going to be in the upcoming season.
Oftentimes when players ball out during the preseason, fans get excited, and then those players either find themselves buried on the depth chart or on a practice squad. Think players like Kory Sheets and Marcus Rush. Players who showed that they could beat third- and fourth-string players like it was nothing, but could never get into those top couple of depth chart spots. Then sometimes you have an individual like Raheem Mostert who busts his butt in the offseason and in preseason games, earns a spot on the roster and then keeps growing as a player.
After two games in this year’s preseason, the San Francisco 49ers have a few players who are pushing their stock up the 49er coaches’ depth chart, which may look very different than the team’s press-published depth chart floating around the Internet. Some of these players could be destined to carve out their spot on the roster, while others are still simply auditioning for inclusion on someone, anyone’s practice squad.
The players making a push through the second preseason game are as follows:
Raheem Mostert, RB
All anyone said when fellow running back Tevin Coleman was signed was that Mostert’s time on the team was over. Mostert is showing everyone that he disagrees. Mostert is showing this preseason that he is ready to start exactly where he left off when he broke his arm during his breakout contest last season against the Oakland Raiders. Against the Denver Broncos, Mostert showed his explosive running style, leading the team in yardage and had one of the team’s two touchdowns, as well as leading the team in receptions (tied with two with Kendrick Bourne) and led the team in receiving yards. Mostert is making it more and more likely that he will be forcing the team to either keep five RBs (including Kyle Juszczyk) or trading one of the three bigger-named backs (Coleman, Matt Breida, or Jerick McKinnon)
Kaden Smith, TE
Not much has been said about any of the 49ers’ tight ends during the offseason or the preseason. Although he didn’t make huge waves on Saturday against the Broncos, he was more visible in both the blocking and receiving game. He laid a crucial block that sealed the edge and allowed Mostert to get outside and break his touchdown run all the way to the end zone. He also caught one of two targets for a gain of 17 yards. Smith isn’t fighting for a starting spot, with all-world talent George Kittle occupying that space, but he started making a statement against the Broncos that he could possibly supplant Garrett Celek as the TE2 or at least make the team as the third TE on the roster.
Deebo Samuel, WR
Samuels, a second-round draft pick, is obviously making the 49ers roster. What spot on the depth chart he will occupy is the question trying to be answered. When he was drafted, everyone envisioned him lining up opposite of Dante Pettis as the team’s WR2 or even as a WR1. But, as everyone knows, just because you are a WR drafted in the first couple rounds, doesn’t mean you are going to be starting for the team (A.J. Jenkins, anyone?). Although Samuel didn’t record a single target in the passing game, he did take an end around 45 yards on his one touch of the game. Samuel’s stock seems to keep going up regardless of the game plan.
Dontae Johnson, CB
When Johnson was signed as a free agent this past offseason after spending some time with the Seattle Seahawks following his release by the 49ers, everyone said, well he’s just a camp body. A known commodity that the team could use in practice and then cut with no concern when cut day came. That could very well be the case, but Johnson did show some real hustle to record an interception on a tipped ball (though he was pretty far out of coverage on the play). He also came away leading the team with two pass breakups by the end of the game.
Kendrick Bourne, WR
Bourne is in a complete street brawl for one of the six roster spots that head coach Kyle Shanahan said is available for wide receivers. After leading the WR group in receptions and yardage a year ago, Bourne, a 2017 UDFA, should have a good chance to make the team. But with Jordan Matthews being brought in via free agency and Samuel and Jalen Hurd being brought in via the draft, Bourne could be the odd man out. He’s doing everything he can to prove he is a NFL WR though, catching two of three targets for 27 yards and the team’s only receiving touchdown. His first catch was a short pass he was able to lose his defender on and take 16 yards. His second catch was a nice one yard touchdown on a fade route, a pass that wasn’t caught that often by anyone on last year’s roster.
Kentavius Street, DL
Street, coming off the equivalent of a redshirt rookie season, has looked strong in both preseason contests. Against the Broncos he recorded 1.5 sacks and 3 tackles. The defensive line depth for the team is unreal, easily the deepest group on the team. Street is trying to carve out a spot behind Dee Ford, Nick Bosa, and Arik Armstead for defensive end reps. If he keeps putting up performances like he did last Saturday, it will be hard for the team to let him go.
Kevin Givens, DL
With the starting defensive line sitting out the game against the Broncos, Givens, an UDFA out of Penn State, started the game at defensive tackle. He made the most of it too. For a team touting five first round draft picks in their defense line group, Givens is making a statement that the group should include at least one UDFA as well. Givens recorded one tackle for a loss on the game, but his explosiveness was all over the field and disrupting plays. Givens could be another Kory Streets, but he’s working to prove that he is a true diamond in the rough.
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