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Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

49ers training camp: 9 players who could climb the depth chart

Jul 11, 2021 at 7:59 PM--

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The San Francisco 49ers begin training camp practices on July 31st and are looking to make another Super Bowl run. Like all training camps, there will be intriguing position battles, but many fans love to see the players who come out nowhere to make the roster on a championship team. This year's Niners team has many players on the current roster who have the ability to either be deep at the bottom of the depth chart or climb their way up. Let's take a look at some of those names.

Quarterback Josh Rosen

Out of all players who will be on this list, the former Bruin star quarterback has a chance to redeem himself and learn from one of the best offensive play-callers in the game.

Josh Rosen was drafted 10th overall by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2018 draft and has been part of four teams in his first four years, which included being traded to the Miami Dolphins in 2019, and being on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squad for the 2020 season before the Niners signed him on Dec. 23 to back up then-quarterback C.J. Beathard.

The former UCLA quarterback now has a chance to learn how to play the position by learning from 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and to show he can play in this league.

The future of the 49ers belongs to Trey Lance, who was drafted with the third pick in the 2021 draft. However, if quarterback Jimmy Garappolo is still injury-plagued this coming season, and Rosen can benefit from an offseason with the 49ers, maybe he can hold off Lance for another year.

Running back Elijah Mitchell

Hall of Fame running back Terrell Davis was drafted in the sixth round with the 196th overall pick of the 1995 NFL Draft and had to fight through a deep running back roster to become a starter for the Denver Broncos.

The 49ers drafted Louisiana running back Elijah Mitchell in the sixth round with the 194th overall pick. He ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash on his pro day and rushed for 3,267 yards and 41 touchdowns during his four-year career with the Ragin' Cajuns. While the team hopes to get healthy before the start of the season and remain healthy, injuries may lift the young running back up the depth chart, much like Davis.

The running back depth chart for the 49ers is one of the team's strengths. It also drafted Ohio State running back Trey Sermon with the 88th overall pick. He suffered a shoulder injury during the first drive of the National Championship game against the Alabama Crimson Tide. Other key injured running backs are: Starting running back Raheem Mostert, who is tending to a minor knee injury; Jeff Wilson, who is expected to miss four to six months with a knee injury of his own; and Jamycal Hasty, who broke his collarbone in a Week 10 loss against the New Orleans Saints last season.

The injuries to these players could open the door for Mitchell, who, according to Pro Football Network, was a consistent ball carrier at Louisiana. And while he's best running on the inside, he showed the ability to run around defenders as well as run over them.

Wide receiver Austin Watkins Jr.

Outside of Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel, the 49ere receivers lack quality depth. It showed when both players were out with injuries last season, and this is where undrafted rookie wide receiver Austin Watkins Jr. comes in.

Watkins, who played two seasons at the University of Alabama Birmingham, earned a total of 1,558 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.

With receivers such as Richie James Jr., who has been with the team for three years, often injured Jalen Hurd, Jauan Jennings, Mohamed Sanu, who was previously cut by the 49ers during the 2020 season, former first-round pick Kevin White, River Cracraft, and the recently-signed Trent Sherfield, this could be the weakest position on the 49ers.

Though this is a run-first offense, the 49ers will need another wideout to make plays outside of their two starters, and Watkins has the ability to make climb up the depth chart.

According to Pro Football Network, Watkins is an extremely nuanced, savvy route runner. His feet are crisp, and his breaks at the top of his stems are very abrupt. Watkins also does a good job deceiving defensive backs with dead-leg moves, and head fakes at his stem. He might not quite have elite natural change-of-direction skills, but he trends toward that with his awareness of how to get open in the short and intermediate ranges.

The former Dragon is the cousin of Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Sammy Watkins.

Photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers

Tight end Charlie Woerner

Thanks to George Kittle, being a dominant blocking tight end is a must for the 49ers, and second-year tight end Charlie Woerner fits the mold.

Coming out of Georgia, Woerner was an excellent run-blocker who helped running backs such as Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, who had outstanding college careers while playing for the Bulldogs before being drafted into the NFL.

Throughout his college career, the second-year NFL tight end was not known for being a threat in the passing game, with 376 receiving yards and one touchdown, but the 49ers took him with the 190th overall pick in the sixth round of the 2020 draft because of his run blocking ability.

This year, with an offseason training program and learning from "The People's Tight End," the 6-foot-5, 241-pound Woerner knows how to use his body, while being a threat in the passing game, and could potentially jump third-year tight end Ross Dwelly and former Minnesota Viking Mycole Pruitt.

Offensive linemen Colton McKivitz

Another player who did not benefit from an offseason training camp due to Covid-19 protocols last year was the 6-foot-6 offensive lineman Colton McKivitz from West Virginia, who played in 14 games, starting three, during his rookie 2020 campaign.

According to Lance Zierlein's scouting report, McKivitz has average athleticism and has a dirty-dog mentality, which will be welcomed inside offensive line rooms.

The 49ers tackles are strong with Trent Williams, Mike McGlinchey, Shonn Coleman, and Tom Compton. It could be hard for the former Mountaineer to climb the depth chart, but coming into camp with an outstanding offseason program could help him jump veterans and stay in the rotation.

The 49ers offensive linemen could be the team's strength with the addition of center Alex Mack and the drafting of offensive guard Aaron Banks. They can be intriguing with the possible expectations of McKivitz.

Defensive lineman Arden Key

San Francisco's defensive line is arguably the team's strongest position next to its offensive line, and the fourth-year player out of LSU has a chance to get into the lineman rotation. Arden Key, who was selected out of LSU in the third round of the 2018 draft, was known for his speed off the edge and the ability to make defensive plays, which he did not do well when playing for Oakland/Las Vegas.

Key had 49 tackles and just three sacks in his three seasons with the Raiders.

Playing with dominant pass rushers in Nick Bosa, Javon Kinlaw, Arik Armstead, and former Raiders teammate Maurice Hurst Jr. could be fun for Key, which could be help rejuvenate his career.

Linebacker Elijah Sullivan

San Francisco has done an outstanding job of finding linebackers such as Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw and may have struck gold again with the undrafted rookie linebacker Elijah Sullivan from Kansas State.

Sullivan will be competing with other inside linebackers such as Azeez Al-Shaair, fourth-year player James Burgess, and fellow undrafted linebackers Justin Hilliard and Jonas Griffith.

The K-State linebacker is capable of being a sideline-to-sideline defender and has great pursuit angles while tackling opponents. That could help him climb the depth chart.

According to Pro Football Network, Sullivan was K-State's MVP of the Liberty Bowl and was an all-Big 12 honorable mention in his senior year. The website stated that the former Wildcat was a hard-charging linebacker on every snap. He's a run-and-chase linebacker with limited appeal due to his size, but Sullivan should stand out as a one-gap defender and on coverage units.

Cornerback Mark Fields II

The 49ers cornerbacks group was a weakness turned into a strength by the end of the 2020 season with Jason Verrett, K'Waun Williams, and Emmanuel Moseley stepping up.

San Francisco also drafted cornerbacks Ambry Thomas and Deommodore Lenoir, who could be in a camp battle for one of the starting spots or increased playing time.

Third-year player Mark Fields II, an undrafted rookie free agent out of Clemson, did not benefit from an offseason last year — his second in the NFL. However, he can use his playing time and experience to jump the two rookie players.

Fields was signed by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2019 and played for the Minnesota Vikings and Houston Texans, but only for a total of five games.

Fields' father, Mark, also played in the NFL from 1995-2004 for the Saints, Rams, and Panthers.

Saftey Talanoa Hufanga

The 49ers have a good "ball hawk" and an "enforcer" in their secondary with Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt, respectively. The Niners selected USC's Talanoa Hufanga with the 180th overall pick in the fifth round of this year's draft. He is both a "ball hawk" and "enforcer."

Hufanga could end up being the steal of the draft because of his ability to play in the box around the line of scrimmage, in addition to being great in coverage. The defensive back could possibly take the spot of fellow safety Tarvarius Moore or Marcell Harris.

According to Pro Football Network, Hufanga is as versatile as they come. He is credited with having aligned at 21 different positions in the 2020 season alone. He has played in the box, dropped into coverage as a linebacker, played single-high safety, slot cornerback. You name it, and he has played there.

Hufanga's shoulder injury history is a major reason the USC safety fell in the draft, but when he is on the field, he is impactful.
  • Written by:
    Sports has been my first love since I was 12 years old. At one point I wanted to play football professionally. I started to take photography as a hobby in my teenage years but this was when I followed sports. I started to listen to sports radio, I found my true calling and it was to be a sports talk show host. Though I follow football and basketball, I started to have a new love of cultures around the world. After graduating from San Antonio College in 2018, I worked for the Castroville News Bulletin before going to A&M San Antonio to get my communications degree. Since I have written for the Ranger of San Antonio College, the News Bulletin and the Mesquite of Texas A&M San Antonio, I met many people and went to a lot of events. My major milestone was being in the press box of the San Antonio Commanders game for the Mesquite and being apart of a press conference with the Medina County Sheriff and other local news outlets. When I am not doing anything, I like to watch old cartoons on the DC Universe, play video games such as Mega Man and the Mass Effect series. I have also created Youtube channel called "Anger Management" with my friend Aaron Donnell.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.

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