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49ers’ 2021 53-man Roster Prediction

Brian Renick
Aug 30, 2021 at 7:00 AM

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The 49ers played their final pre-season game against the Las Vegas Raiders Sunday afternoon, and now the hard part begins: whittling the roster down to 53 players by the 4 p.m. EST deadline Tuesday, August 31st.

There are some tough decisions to make, especially along the defensive line and among the wide receivers group.


Quarterbacks (2)

Jimmy Garoppolo
Trey Lance

Kyle Shanahan prefers to carry three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, but he has never had two starting-caliber quarterbacks on the roster at the same time. If a team has to start its third-string quarterback during a season, that season is likely a lost cause. There are depth issues in other areas on the roster, so it is more prudent to only carry two quarterbacks and have a third quarterback on the practice squad.

Running Backs (5)

Kyle Juszczyk
Raheem Mostert
Trey Sermon
Elijah Mitchell
Wayne Gallman

Elijah Mitchell looked great in his preseason debut against the Raiders. He ran hard, looked decisive, returned two kickoffs for a total of 60 yards, and even made a tackle on the opening kickoff, which is a great way to ingratiate yourself with this coaching staff. Plus, the team invested a draft pick in him back in April, likely securing his spot.

JaMychal Hasty has looked really good during the preseason, including a long touchdown run against the Raiders on Sunday. However, Hasty was an undrafted free agent and has had ball security issues. Wayne Gallman had a productive season for the New York Giants last year, and he is better in pass protection than Hasty, which gives him the edge. Both Gallman and Hasty probably aren't long for the roster anyway, once Jeff Wilson, Jr. is fully recovered from his knee injury.

Wide Receivers (6)

Brandon Aiyuk
Deebo Samuel
Trent Sherfield
Mohamed Sanu
Jalen Hurd
Jauan Jennings

This was one of the harder groups to predict, not because there were so many players who deserved a spot through their play during the preseason, but rather after the top four of Aiyuk, Samuel, Sherfield, and Sanu, nobody distinguished himself throughout the preseason.

Jalen Hurd spent most of camp continuing to rehab from his ACL tear in 2020 and did not see the field until the final game against the Raiders. He didn't do himself any favors in the game, dropping multiple passes and struggling to get separation against the Raiders' defensive backs. His spot on this team has more to do with his draft pedigree, and potential, than anything he did to earn the spot.

Jauan Jennings gets the nod over Travis Benjamin based on his play during camp. Kyle Shanahan went out of his way during a press conference on August 17th to highlight Jennings' play, stating that he had been "extremely impressed" with Jennings, that "he plays like his hair is on fire," and he thinks "a lot of our receivers can learn from watching him." When the head coach singles a player out, that's usually a pretty good sign the player will make the roster.

I would also expect the 49ers to monitor cuts from other teams to possibly fill the sixth spot, especially if a speedy receiver with kick and punt return abilities shakes loose.

Tight Ends (4)

George Kittle
Ross Dwelley
Charlie Woerner
MyCole Pruitt

Shanahan prefers to carry four tight ends on the 53-man roster, with one of those being a blocking specialist, which is why MyCole Pruitt earns the nod over Jordan Matthews, who is still learning the position after a switch from wide receiver. The 49ers would likely love to carry Matthews on the practice squad to continue his development.

Offensive Linemen (8)

Trent Williams
Laken Tomlinson
Alex Mack
Daniel Brunskill
Mike McGlinchey
Jaylon Moore
Aaron Banks
Colton McKivitz

Not many surprises here. Banks should be back from his shoulder injury before the first game against the Detroit Lions on September 12th but did not do enough in camp to supplant Daniel Brunskill at the right guard position. The more impressive rookie was Jaylon Moore, who acquitted himself quite nicely at left tackle during the first two preseason games and has enough versatility to kick inside at guard as well. Brunskill will be the starting right guard, but will also be the primary backup to veteran Alex Mack at center. McKivitz has inside/out flexibility as well, which earns him the final spot.


Defensive Line (10)

Nick Bosa
Dee Ford
Samson Ebukam
Arden Key
Arik Armstead
Javon Kinlaw
D.J. Jones
Kevin Givens
Maurice Hurst
Kentavius Street

This was far and away the most difficult position group to predict. The depth that the front office has put together on the defensive line has been impressive all camp, bringing wave after wave of starting caliber NFL linemen into every game. I would not be surprised if the 49ers fielded calls and possibly made some trades from this depth before the cutdown deadline.

Zach Kerr was the odd man out at the defensive tackle position, having been outplayed by fellow free agent acquisition Maurice Hurst. Hurst was a monster all camp, and during the first two preseason games, until he suffered a high ankle sprain against the Los Angeles Chargers. The 49ers must carry Hurst on the 53-man before placing him on injured reserve, otherwise, he would not be eligible to come back during the season. Once placed on IR, the team will be able to bring him back to the active roster after three games, a holdover rule from the COVID season last year. Placing him on IR will open up a spot on the 53-man, which could be used to bring back Kerr, or, to bring back a player from another position group.

Arden Key and Eddie Yarbrough were the other two difficult decisions at the defensive end position, with Jordan Willis earning a spot over both with the strength of his play during all three preseason games, including a safety against the Chargers. However, Willis will be suspended for the first six games of the 2021 season due to a positive performance-enhancing drug test, so the team will hope that Key or Yarbrough makes it through waivers, in order to bring one of them back to fill the vacant spot left by Willis' suspension.

*UPDATED* Jordan Willis will be moved to the Reserve/Suspended list to serve his six game suspension and will not count against the 53-man roster limit. Arden Key has been added to the D-Line group in his place.

Linebackers (5)

Fred Warner
Dre Greenlaw
Azeez Al-Shaair
Jonas Griffith
Marcell Harris

This was another difficult decision because Jonas Griffith has played exceptionally well during camp as the primary backup to Fred Warner, Demetrius Flannagan-Fowles has been a member of the team for the past two seasons, and Marcell Harris just recently converted to the linebacker position. Harris ends up getting the edge over Flannigan-Fowles simply due to positional flexibility and special teams play. Harris is one of special teams coordinator Richard Hightower's favorite players, and he is a converted safety who could, in an emergency, be used in the backend if injuries pile up.

Cornerbacks (6)

Jason Verrett
Emmanuel Moseley
K'Waun Williams
Deommodore Lenoir
Ambry Thomas
Dontae Johnson

This is another group that doesn't have a lot of surprises. Deommodore Lenoir has been a great story as a fifth-round pick, playing incredibly well throughout camp, with a 0.0 passer rating against, before the game against the Raiders on Sunday. Based on his usage, it also appears that he may be the primary backup both outside, and in the slot.

Safeties (4)

Jimmie Ward
Jaquiski Tartt
Talanoa Hufanga
Tavon Wilson

Talanoa Hufanga, another fifth-round pick in this year's draft, is the other rookie who has impressed the most on defense. He has already displayed some play-making traits, excelled at rushing the passer on blitzes, and is a core special teams player already. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was brought in late to camp and had an interception in the game against the Raiders, he just has not had enough time to supplant Tavon Wilson on the roster. Wilson has been steady through camp and was the primary starter at SS before Tartt returned and Hufanga emerged.

Specialists (3)

Robbie Gould
Mitch Wishnowsky
Taybor Pepper

Gould hasn't looked sharp during the preseason. Hopefully, that does not carry over to the regular season, and Wishnowsky has been solid, if unspectacular, which isn't great for a punter drafted in the 4th round back in 2019. Taybor Pepper is the best long snapper in the league.
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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  • D-Notte
    Hasty will make the roster!
    Aug 31, 2021 at 11:14 AM
  • Skip
    Good list. Hasty is more deserving of a roster spot than both Mitchell and Gallman in my opinion.
    Aug 30, 2021 at 1:16 PM


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