• Geoff Castaneda

Breaking Down the 49ers Practice Squad and Odds of Seeing the Roster this Season

Image Credit: Tony Avelar/San Francisco Chronicle

The 49ers announced their preliminary 53-man roster on Tuesday. Starting at 1:00 pm on Wednesday, teams were allowed to begin signing players to the 16-player practice squad. Changes to the practice squad rules were ushered in during 2020 season to navigate COVID-19 related concerns. As a result of the changes, teams are now allowed to add practice squad players to the active roster on game day. Additionally, teams are no longer prohibited from signing players with more than two years of service to the squad. The 49ers have added a mix of veterans and youth to their practice squad. Amongst the players announced, which are most likely to be activated to the 53-man roster this seasons?

Highly Likely:

(alphabetically) Alex Barrett (DL), Travis Benjamin (WR), Senio Kelemete (OL), Jared Mayden (S), Colton McKivitz (OL), Nate Sudfeld

Image Credit: USA Today

The top tier of the 49ers’ practice squad all have regular season experience. Kelemete’s versatility at the guard and tackle positions made him a likely fill-in if depth becomes an issue on the offensive line. McKivitz’s development was stunted by a lack of offseason program during his rookie season. Time on the practice squad could give the former fifth-rounder a shot at redemption. The 49ers are without reserves Justin Skule and Shon Coleman and their former swing tackle, Daniel Brunskill, is now the starting right guard.

Travis Benjamin appeared to be an offseason lock due to his special teams value. With players still to be added to the injured reserve list, Benjamin could be the first to be promoted to the active roster. Sudfeld will likely remain on the practice squad barring injuries to Jimmy Garoppolo or Trey Lance. However, Kyle Shanahan has shown a propensity to tinker with his gameday roster and add depth depending on the week’s inactives. The 49ers have carried three quarterbacks on the active roster and Sudfeld’s exclusion from the initial-53, could have been a chess move by Shanahan and Co.

Jared Mayden and Alex Barrett are practice squad carryovers with limited regular season experience. Injuries along the defensive line and the backend of the secondary have been recurring issues for the 49ers. Both players could be called into action if injuries persist.


River Cracraft (WR), Darrion Daniels (DL), Josh Hokit (FB), Jordan Matthews (TE)

Image Credit: Getty Images

The aforementioned players are all serviceable emergency policies. A series of unfortunate events, not the book or movie, would need to occur for these players to suit-up during the regular season. In 2019, offensive weapon Kyle Juszczyk missed four games due to an MCL injury. The 49ers relied on tight end Ross Dwelley to serve as Juszczyk’s emergency backup. Hokit’s addition gives the 49ers a more suitable replacement if necessary.

River Cracraft and Jordan Matthews can be inserted at the wide receiver positions, if necessary, with Cracraft adding special teams experience. The 49ers will continue to monitor Matthew’s development at tight end but his biggest contribution will likely be outside the lines.

Daniels’ biggest enemy could be the depth on the 49ers’ defensive line. His signing indicates he has shown something in practice to warrant a recommendation from D-line coach Kris Kocurek. Daniels will need to develop as a pash rusher and interior lineman to show the 49ers he is more than a practice player.

Highly Unlikely:

Alfredo Gutierrez (OL), Tanner Hudson (TE), Corbin Kaufusi (OL), Elijah Sullivan (LB),Dee Virgin (CB)

Image Credit: Associated Press

Alfredo Gutierrez became a fan-favorite during training camp. The 6’9” offensive lineman continues his NFL career via the International Player Pathway. He will not count against the 49ers’ 16-player cap based on his exemption. The Tijuana native is unlikely to dress at any time during the 2021 season. Nonetheless, his story is one worth following.

It feels cliché writing about the 49ers and a 6’5” tight end (see Ross Dwelley and Charlie Woerner). Tanner Hudson is the latest to join the ranks. The 49ers chose to keep three tight ends on the active roster (Kittle, Dwelley, and Woerner). They also decided to continue the Jordan Matthews experiment at tight end. Hudson is unlikely to reach the 53-man roster and the 49ers would be more inclined to seek a free agent solution rather than promoting Hudson.

Corbin Kaufusi is another 6’9” offensive lineman. Despite the common height, Kaufusi is listed at 275 lbs. compared to Gutierrez’s 325 lb. billed weight. He played college ball at Brigham Young before entering the league in 2019 as an undrafted free agent. After being waived by the New Orleans Saints, Kaufusi signed on with the New York Jets practice squad. The 49ers signed him to a reserve/futures contract in 2021 and he looks like a longshot to have sustained success in Santa Clara.

Elijah Sullivan spent six years at Kansas State, in part, due to an ACL tear in 2018. The 49ers traded Jonas Griffith to the Denver Broncos and kept converted safety Marcell Harris on the active roster. The team had success developing undrafted linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair into a starter. Sullivan should spend the entire 2021 season developing as a pro on the practice squad.

Javaris Drequis Virgin, a.k.a. “Dee” Virgin, entered the league in 2017 as an undrafted addition to the Houston Texans practice squad. The 5’9”, 195-lb cornerback from West Alabama failed to make the active roster in Houston. He was claimed off waivers by the Detroit Lions in 2018 and was promoted to the active roster late in the season. Virgin has yet to accrue an interception in the NFL. On paper, Virgin’s size fits in with the rest of the 49ers’ cornerbacks and he has demonstrated speed that could be valuable on special teams. Virgin clocked a 4.47-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. If the 49ers defensive backs can stay healthy, Virgin could be an early casualty for another roster need.

The practice squad an ever-evolving storyline. The 49ers made almost-weekly transactions throughout the 2020 season. They have two remaining vacancies, one of which could be filled by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. The 49ers’ front office will monitor the free agent pool as players become available throughout the season. Don’t be surprised if changes are made prior to Week 1. A spot on the practice squad is only a guarantee of uncertainty, not a promise to remain with the team.

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