The offseason is under way. OTA’s have started and soon the opening day roster will start to take shape. Here is an early prediction of who we think makes the 53 man roster.
QBs (3): Alex Smith, Colin Kaepernick, Josh Johnson
RBs (4): Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James, Brandon Jacobs
FBs (2): Bruce Miller, Rock Cartwright
WRs (6): Randy Moss, Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham, AJ Jenkins, Kyle Williams, Ted Ginn Jr
TEs (3): Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker, Konrad Reuland
OTs (4): Joe Staley, Anthony Davis, Mike Person, Jason Slowey
OG (4): Mike Iupati, Alex Boone, Joe Looney, Daniel Kilgore
C (1): Jonathan Goodwin
DEs (3): Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, Demarcus Dobbs
DTs/NTs (3): Issac Sopoaga, Ian Williams, Ricky Jean Francois
ILBs (4): Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Larry Grant, Tavares Gooden
OLBs (4): Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks, Parys Haralson, Cam Johnson
CBs (5): Carlos Rogers, Tarrell Brown, Chris Culliver, Tramaine Brock, Perish Cox
Safeties (4): Dashon Goldson, Donte Whitner, Trenton Robinson, CJ Spillman
Kicker: David Akers
Punter: Andy Lee
Long Snapper: Brian Jennings
Special Teams: 3
Comments: I only list one true center because I believe that the backup center will be someone like Daniel Kilgore or one of the other backups at guard/tackle, who can play the position if there are injuries to Goodwin. It might be rolling the dice a bit, but the team wants the best 9 linemen (only 7 will suit up) and I don’t know how good Chase Beeler is. Jason Slowey was drafted with a purpose and I expect him to make the team over Beeler, but if he does not, then Beeler simply moves in as a backup center and we keep 3 OTs. We also have Mike Person as a potential swing tackle and guard who has had a year in the system. The team has been pretty adamant about keeping Boone at RG as well, but I’m sure he would play tackle if we had a serious injury to Staley or Davis. The key here is versatility and we’ve drafted/groomed a few guys in the later rounds and on the practice squad to potentially come in and help in multiple areas along the line over the last 2 years. Slowey does have practice squad eligibility so that could be a factor, especially if we keep our eyes out for a veteran backup to sign towards the start of training camp.
I have Konraud Reuland making the team over Nate Byham. We’ll see if that holds. I think Reuland is another player who could benefit from having a whole year in the system and is again a Stanford guy who Harbaugh nestled away on the practice squad last year. The problem is that the #3 TE will need to be able to block, and we’ll see if Reuland can improve in that area. From what I’ve read, Byham is still recovering from last year’s torn ACL, but he’s supposed to be very good as a blocking TE. If Byham can fully recover and be healthy, he could easily seal that 3rd TE position but otherwise I’m going with Reuland.
Other than that, no other major surprises along the offense. I don’t see us keeping 4 QBs even if we want to. It’s just going to be tough unless we go with 8 offensive linemen (wouldn’t be surprised, last year we only kept 3 OLBs even though that was unconventional). Scott Tolzien also has practice squad eligibility, so hopefully we can place him there for another year. Chris Owusu will make the practice squad unless he has some amazing pre-season and gets plucked by another team. I doubt the team cuts Kyle Williams because, by all indications, Kyle Williams is looking very good in OTAs and is the team’s backup punt returner. Rock Cartwright should make the team based on special teams value and overall versatility. We will have a crowded but deep backfield and manage to keep all of our notable RBs.
Moving on to the defense, it’s tough along the d-line. Last year, both Dobbs and Tukuafu made the team but I don’t see that happening this year if the team wants to keep 4 OLBs as has been suggested. Maybe if the team lightens up somewhere on the offense (a surprise RB or o-line cut), then both make the team but otherwise it’s either/or. I chose Dobbs because he has a bit more versatility and upside to me, and because Tukuafu spent most of last year on IR anyways. I wouldn’t be surprised if I was wrong here and both did make the team. Especially since we like to rotate a few of our d-linemen and want to keep last year’s defense in tact. We do have some versatility as both Ricky Jean Francois and Ian Williams can play inside or outside on the d-line though and, like I said, Tukuafu wasn’t active a lot of last year due to injury. It also seems like we groom young d-linemen on a yearly basis thanks to Jim Tomsula so that’s why I went with 6 D-linemen.
Outside of that, I don’t see any major surprises on defense. Cam Johnson should win that 4th OLB spot with Fleming out with a torn ACL, but Kourtnei Brown could be a dark horse there. Perrish Cox will be challenged for that 5th CB spot, and it’s very possible that the team decides to only go with 4 CBs, while keeping younger, talented corners on the practice squad in the form of Corey Nelms and another 1st or 2nd year player (i.e. Curtis Holcomb). But, I think Cox makes the team on the merits of special teams contribution as well as experience (he started some games at CB before being suspended all of last year). I don’t have Colin Jones making the team, but again, if the team decides to only keep 4 CBs or drops a lineman, that could easily put him back in the mix as a 5th safety. He was a very good special teams performer last year, so we’ll see how he fits in and if we can perhaps sacrifice elsewhere find a spot for him. The defense is pretty much set though. Not expecting a ton of change since this was the best defensive unit in the NFL last year.
Overall, there should be some interesting debates and fringe cuts. Does the team value a 4th OLB or 3rd/4th defensive end over a backup lineman that might not suit up next year? Most teams only carry 5 WRs, but the 49ers learned how quickly that position can be decimated with injuries last year and both Ginn and Williams have roles on the team. And even though all the RBs might not suit up, it seems to be in Harbaugh’s style to feature multiple RBs and styles whenever he can. Finally, if the team can stash one of its young, drafted o-linemen like Jason Slowey on the practice squad, that could help bring in another special teams player such as Colin Jones. Otherwise, someone else is going to have to step up on the special teams unit. It should all make for some compelling training camp drama in less than 2 months.