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There's the 53-man roster, and then there's the all-important 46-man roster.The conversations about prospects inside the 49ers draft room take both into account. When the 49ers discuss a draft-eligible player, the question is asked, "Can he make the 53-man roster?" Then, the player is evaluated from the perspective of whether he can make a contribution as part of the 46-man roster.
Teams must declare seven inactive players for every regular- and post-season game. Only 46 players are allowed to suit up.
It's reasonable to look at the 49ers and determine their biggest needs are at guard and wide receiver. But when you look at the most likely 46-man scenario, it's clear that the 49ers' biggest need is at safety.
Teams generally have at least four safeties active for games. The two non-starters must be able to contribute on special teams, too. Behind the starting safeties, the 49ers have only one player, special-teams ace C.J. Spillman, who has ever played in an NFL game.
If the 49ers take a wide receiver with the No. 30 overall pick, that player would likely have to bump either Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham or Randy Moss off the game-day roster. Ted Ginn's role as the No. 4 receiver appears to be set because of his importance as the team's return man. And there's no reason for the 49ers to carry five wide receivers on game days -- unless the fourth and fifth wideouts are major special-teams contributors.
The 49ers will definitely have a new starting right guard this season, as Adam Snyder and Chilo Rachal have signed with the Arizona Cardinals and Chicago Bears, respectively.
But, at least, the 49ers already have several viable candidates to fill that role. Coach Jim Harbaugh confirmed a recent CSNBayArea.com report that backup tackle Alex Boone will get a serious look to compete for the job at right guard.
When asked about the plan at right guard, Harbaugh answered, "Watch it unfold, let guys compete for it, and we have a number of candidates there: Daniel Kilgore, Mike Person, Boone. I think that'll be the first order of business, evaluating those guys to seeing if they can be that guy."
PROJECTED 46-MAN ROSTERBefore the draft, the 49ers do not have many obvious openings for newcomers to get chances to earn a spots on the game-day roster. Here's a look at how the 46-man roster might break down:
Quarterbacks (2)Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick (or Josh Johnson)--It should be good competition between Kaepernick and Johnson for the right to wear a uniform on Sundays.
Running backs (4)Frank Gore, Bruce Miller, Kendall Hunter and Brandon Jacobs. --Jacobs will have to hold off Anthony Dixon and a possible draft pick for his spot.
Wide receivers (4)Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham, Randy Moss and Ted Ginn. --The key is Moss. If he's anywhere near the player he was pre-2010, it'll be difficult for anybody else to crack into this group.
Tight ends (3)Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker and Nate Byham. --Byham returns from a knee injury. General manager Trent Baalke this week used Byham as an example of when best-player available also fits a need. Byham was chosen in sixth round of 2010, and 49ers envisioned him as a first-year contributor, and he was.
Offensive linemen (7)Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Jonathan Goodwin, Anthony Davis, Alex Boone, Daniel Kilgore and Mike Person. --Kilgore and Person spent most of their rookie seasons on the inactive list. A newcomer is likely to be added to the mix to join the competition.
Defensive linemen (5)Justin Smith, Isaac Sopoaga, Ray McDonald, Ricky Jean Francois and Will Tukuafu. --Tukuafu began last season on the active list before sustaining a season-ending wrist injury. Tukuafu will compete with Demarcus Dobbs and Ian Williams, and probably a newcomer, for a spot in the rotation this season.
Inside linebackers (4)Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Larry Grant and Tavares Gooden. --This group looks set, though the 49ers might add an inside linebacker to be a special-teams ace.
Outside linebackers (3)Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks and Parys Haralson. --A newcomer can give the 49ers four outside linebackers active on game days if he's also a dynamite special-teams player.
Cornerbacks (4)Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown, Chris Culliver, Tramaine Brock. --A newcomer can be added to the mix to join the competition along with 2011 draft pick Curtis Holcomb and free-agent pick-up Perrish Cox.
Safeties (4)Dashon Goldson, Donte Whitner, C.J. Spillman and ???. --One name that hasn't been mentioned for the 49ers as a possible first-round draft pick: Harrison Smith of Notre Dame. It would make some sense, unless 49ers are certain they can fill that need a round or two later.
Specialists (6)K David Akers, P Andy Lee, LS Brian Jennings, and core special-teams players Colin Jones, Rock Cartwright and ???. --There is an opportunity for a rookie to suit up for games based entirely on his special-teams play. That player could be a receiver, inside linebacker, outside linebacker or defensive back.
Read more: Draft picks face challenges to crack into 49ers' top 46 Tune to SportsNet Central at 6, 10:30 and midnight on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area for more on this story