Tough Decisions: Predicting the 49ers 53-Man Roster
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Matt Barr’s Totally Accurate and Not at All Incorrect 53-Man Roster Projection
Now that three preseason games have come and gone, the final 53-man roster picture is becoming clearer for head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch. The San Francisco 49ers will make their final decisions by August 31, and they got a head start on Tuesday when they cut veteran linebacker Malcolm Smith. No need to mince anymore words. Let’s jump right into my 2019 roster projection.
Quarterbacks (2): Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Mullens
No matter what Kyle Shanahan says, I believe it is irresponsible for the 49ers to carry three quarterbacks on their roster. Depth is so much more important at other positions and wasting a roster spot on a third QB does not make any sense. My co-host Javier Vega said it best on the “4th and Gold” podcast: any team that has their third QB playing significant time is in a lost season. It is time for Shanahan to swallow his pride and recognize that C.J. Beathard is not up to snuff and move on from the 2017 third-round pick.
Running Backs/OWs (5): Matt Breida, Tevin Coleman, Jerick McKinnon, Raheem Mostert, Kyle Juszczyk
It is looking more and more likely that prized 2018 free agent Jerick McKinnon will be ready to start the season. This means the three-headed monster will be ready to roll by Week 2, at the latest. Mostert has played very well throughout the preseason and has proven that he can be used as a ball carrier in a pinch but his true value lies in his special-teams ability. Juszczyk is as close to a lock as it comes with his contract and versatility in the offense. While Jeff Wilson Jr. has performed admirably during the exhibition season, he hasn’t done enough to crack the final roster. To me, Wilson is a practice squad candidate with a “Break Only In Case of Emergency” label attached to him.
Wide Receivers (7): Dante Pettis, Deebo Samuel, Jalen Hurd, Jordan Matthews, Trent Taylor, Kendrick Bourne, Richie James Jr.
This is where my prediction is going to ruffle plenty of feathers among the fan base. The glaring omission is obviously Marquise Goodwin and I have a gut feeling that he will be traded before final cuts. With his desire to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, I believe that the front office will do their best to get whatever return they can before he hangs up his cleats next offseason. James and Bourne were perceived to be fighting for the same roster spot yet both have shown flashes of brilliance and have done enough to stick around for at least another year. Matthews, 26, enters the season as the elder statesman of the group and the youth movement of the wide receiver corps is complete. Carrying seven will allow the team to have one receiver inactive each game to recover from any nagging injuries.
Tight Ends (3): George Kittle, Ross Dwelley, Kaden Smith
Probably the biggest surprise is Dwelley, who has played very well throughout training camp. He has been better than Kaden Smith and will supplant Garrett Celek as Kittle’s primary backup. Smith could use a developmental year but would be difficult to stash on the practice squad. He could be a candidate to be a healthy scratch on game days provided there aren’t too many injuries elsewhere.
Offensive Line (8): Joe Staley, Laken Tomlinson, Weston Richburg, Mike Person, Mike McGlinchey, Justin Skule, Ben Garland, Sam Young
This group has been less than impressive so far during the preseason. The game against the Denver Broncos stands out as particularly bad with miscommunications, missed assignments and overall poor pass protection. While the starters are all entrenched in their positions, the depth leaves more to be desired. Guard Najee Toran had quite the opportunity to impress the coaching staff but appears to have squandered that. Similarly, undrafted free agent G Ross Reynolds did not live up to the fanfare as the most prized UDFA signing after the draft and is likely headed for the practice squad. All told, the 49ers have to hope the starters remain healthy in order for this team to have success.
Defensive Line (9): DeForest Buckner, Dee Ford, Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Solomon Thomas, D.J. Jones, Sheldon Day, Ronald Blair, Damontre Moore
Easily the deepest group on the team earns the most roster spots. Damontre Moore was a part of the team last offseason before being let go before Week 1. Since then, he dominated the now defunct Alliance of American Football and was brought back to compete this year. He has made the most of all his opportunities, racking up two sacks against the Kansas City Chiefs and being disruptive in all three games. Kentavius Street just underwent a knee scope and it sounds like his most likely destination is the season-ending injured reserve. He is the latest in a long line of ACL All-Stars that never pan out for the 49ers. The front office is willing to roll the dice with 2018 seventh-round pick Jullian Taylor, hoping to stash him on the practice squad. However, if the 49ers find a suitor for a player like Ronald Blair, Taylor would slot right into his roster spot. Yes, I’m hedging my bet a little on this one. Sue me.
Linebackers (6): Kwon Alexander, Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw, David Mayo, Elijah Lee, Azeez Al-Shaair
The best surprise from this offseason has been the stellar play from rookie Dre Greenlaw. Elijah Lee was a solid spot starter last year throughout the litany of injuries the defense suffered. David Mayo is a special-teams ace who will be replacing 2018’s ace, Mark Nzeocha. Unlike with Jullian Taylor, I don’t believe the team is willing to gamble that Azeez Al-Shaair will clear waivers. This group is fairly cut and dry.
Cornerbacks (5): Richard Sherman, Jason Verrett, Ahkello Witherspoon, D.J. Reed, Emmanuel Moseley
Five may seem like a small number of cornerbacks to keep on the roster but versatility is the name of the game with this group. Verrett and Reed can play both boundary corner and inside covering the slot, unlike K’Waun Williams who is strictly a slot cornerback. Being the first player this regime brought in through free agency, Williams will be one of the hardest players to cut for Shanahan and Lynch. I am betting the house on the group staying healthy throughout the season, which is far from a guarantee, but I’m feeling good today.
Safeties (5): Jaquiski Tartt, Jimmie Ward, Tarvarius Moore, Adrian Colbert, Antone Exum Jr.
Marcell Harris has certainly played more snaps that Adrian Colbert but I cannot bring myself to leave the Week 1 starter from 2018 off the squad. I have never been a fan of Harris’ boom-or-bust play style, which comes up bust far more often than most think, and Exum does not possess the versatility the defensive backs group needs. Ward and Moore both have experience at cornerback, with Ward playing very well as a slot-cornerback against the Chiefs. Again, I’m wagering on the health of this group like I am the cornerbacks. Have to have faith in something, right?
Specialists (3): Robbie Gould, Mitch Wishnowsky, Colin Holba
Ho hum. Nothing to see here.
Last Four off the Roster: K’Waun Williams, Joshua Garnett, Levine Toilolo, Marcell Harris
Tight end Levine Toilolo was not able to edge out Kaden Smith in my final cuts and his only hope is that Smith mysteriously rolls an ankle in practice that lands him on IR. Williams and Harris just don’t have the ability to play multiple positions which is not what defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is looking for. Lastly, Joshua Garnett is unable to stay healthy throughout a training camp. Wash, rinse, repeat.
The Fun Part:
Now comes the time where you get to rant and rave about how wildly off-base I was with my predictions. Which players would you switch out? Let me know. As every clichéd protagonist in the history of cinema has said: “I was born ready.”
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