Potential Breakout Players Hidden on the 49ers Roster
Image Credit: Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports
The San Francisco 49ers have had its their share of injuries to star players. And with each injury came a burst of sad, maniacal laughter from the Faithful across the globe.
"We have nobody behind him," the 49er fan would babble like a man in between psychotic episodes. "Who is that guy? Where was he working last week?"
The story kept repeating itself, that over time, 49er fans simply became immune to the program. The chuckles gave way to stoic faces and a shoulder shrug.
Indeed, a coach and general manager would like to see a relatively injury-free season to the starting 22 men. But this is a full-contact, violent game played on fake grass and under a hot sun. The odds of total survival for any team are not in the cards, with great players hobbled by rolled ankles, back spasms, or even organ lacerations.
One issue I've had with the 49ers' management is their inability to fulfill the next-man-up dogma. The executive staff pours through the players on the penny stock market, hoping a minimal investment might yield a high return.
The reality is far from the dream. Too often, the 49ers have placed underdeveloped players in starting situations, with ugly consequences.
Hope does live in the NFL, and it usually springs near the end of the preseason. All NFL teams are now looking to reduce a 90-man roster to 53 by Saturday, meaning 1,000 men will be out of a job by Saturday evening. But these three 49ers will bypass the cutting shears and remain on the final 53-man roster.
Linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair
It seems we all missed undrafted free agent linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair as a final roster dark horse. Through 106 preseason snaps, Al-Shaair has ten tackles, including a tackle-for-loss and fumble recovery against Dallas.
Rookie linebacker Dre Greenlaw's potential was one of the many offseason topics, including what he could do as a SAM Sam linebacker. Greenlaw's played good football, and we may see him as a Week 1 starter. But I've also noted Al-Shaair flying to the ball, taking full advantage of his time on the field.
49ers beat writer Eric Branch wrote a fantastic column on Al-Shaair over the weekend. I highly suggest you take a moment to learn more about the rookie.
The 49ers are not thin at linebacker, but I have grown weary of Malcolm Smith to be a productive, reliable player. I'd rather the team invest time and money in a hungry player like Al-Shaair.
Defensive lineman Damontre Moore
It's not that the 49ers need another gem on the defensive line, but the team has found one in veteran Damontre Moore. Over a seven-year career, Moore has played for five NFL teams and appeared in 54 games. He did have a stint with the San Diego Fleet in the Alliance of American Football earlier this year.
Moore's had a tough past in pro football. He was a second-round projection coming into the NFL but fell into the third round - most likely due to a dismal combine performance. The Giants waived Moore in late 2015 due to an internal dispute over free headphones.
I'm not one to critique a person's behavior, whether in the locker room or off the field. I am always hopeful someone, whether a professional athlete or the person in the cubicle next to you, can wake up one morning and decide to be a better person. Maybe Moore had a morning like that a few months ago.
The man wants to make the roster and played with a cast over his thumb on Saturday night.
The 49ers have a top-notch defensive line rotation, which may keep Moore off the roster. However, he could be a reliable player for 12-to 15 plays a game, or even as a healthy scratch to activate when needed.
Guard Ben Garland
No, veteran offensive lineman Ben Garland is not buried on the roster. In fact, he started on Saturday night against Denver. He played almost 50 snaps at center, registering an 82.0 grade from Pro Football Focus.
Garland has played for Denver and Atlanta since entering the league in 2012, playing in Shanahan's offense in 2016.
Here's why Garland is a valuable addition to the final roster. Veteran guard Joshua Garnett missed most of training camp and three weeks of practice due to a fix a dislocated finger. Garnett's been allowed to win the starting guard job for two years now, both times he's blown the chance due to injury.
Feel free to summon Wally Pipp what it's like to miss time due to an injury. I'd bet his ghost would chase you out of the séance circle shaking a bottle of aspirin.
The 49ers removed center Weston Richburg coming of the physically-unable-to-perform list Monday afternoon. However, it's still unclear if he'll be ready to play live football on September 8.
Garland's been with the first team, and he's played well. He's a versatile offensive lineman, with the ability to play guard or center. Consider Garland's skillset, combined with a lower salary, and there's no need for the 49ers to keep for an injury-prone, overpriced backup.
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