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49ers pre-training camp roster primer: Position battles, projections, and questions to be answered

Jul 26, 2022 at 5:27 AM

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Finally... the San Francisco 49ers have come back to training camp.

It's been a long offseason of ups and downs, strange rumors and never-ending drama. After all that, actual real-life football will be a very welcome sight.

Players are reporting to training camp on July 26, with practices set to begin on July 27. Camp arrives with no shortage of expectations or unanswered questions for the 49ers.

Let's take a look at where things stand by position before the first practice whistle sounds. Follow along below as we explore the state of each position, the questions surrounding them, and the players to keep an eye on throughout the next few weeks.

(R) denotes a rookie player.


State of the position: The starting spot belongs to Trey Lance, but questions persist past that.
Players: Jimmy Garoppolo, Trey Lance, Brock Purdy (R), Nate Sudfeld
Battle to watch: Purdy vs. Sudfeld for the No. 2 spot
Questions to be answered:

1. How has Trey progressed? This is by far the most important question on this list, even if it didn't get anywhere near the amount of offseason headlines that question number two did. Is Trey Lance ready to lead the 49ers to playoff contention? Has he established himself as a locker room leader—an area where offseason reports suggested he was progressing? How he'll perform this season remains an unknown, but we'll start to get some clues in the days ahead.

2. Where or where will Garoppolo go? After months of wondering, the answer to this question should be right around the corner. Garoppolo is getting healthy after offseason surgery and the powers that be are apparently at work trying to find a trade partner. It'll be interesting to see what he does in the meantime, but it's starting to feel like a resolution is getting closer.

3. Who will be the No. 2? Will there be another competitor? The veteran Sudfeld clearly heads into camp with an edge over seventh-round pick Brock Purdy, but his status as the No. 2 doesn't feel etched in stone. There will be opportunities for Purdy to play himself onto the roster.

Pre-camp prediction (2): Sticking here to the same words printed after the draft—Garoppolo lands elsewhere before the start of the season and the 49ers open Week 1 with Lance and Sudfeld as their two quarterbacks with Purdy on the practice squad.

Running back/Fullback

State of the position: Deep and talented, the running back position should stand out as one of many strengths on this roster.
Players: Tyrion Davis-Price (R), JaMycal Hasty, Jordan Mason (R), Elijah Mitchell, Trey Sermon, Jeff Wilson; FB: Josh Hokit, Kyle Juszczyk
Battle to watch: Sermon vs. Hasty for a roster spot
Questions to be answered:

1. Will the 49ers give up on Trey Sermon after one season? Sermon didn't have as big of a role as expected last season after being selected in Round 3 of the 2021 NFL Draft. Mitchell wound up making the type of impact some felt Sermon would, and now Sermon may find himself in a battle for a roster spot after the addition of Davis-Price in Round 3 of the 2022 draft.

2. What will year two bring for Mitchell? Mitchell was a revelation in 2021, nearly breaking the 1,000 yard mark while setting a franchise rushing record for a rookie in just 11 games. Will he be even better in 2022? Or will he find himself splitting the load in this deep backfield? Maybe it'll be a combination of both.

3. What will Davis-Price bring to the table? Some scouts projected the LSU product Davis-Price to be drafted much later than Round 3, but the 49ers obviously liked him more than that. He's a big back (6-1, 219) with speed and untapped potential. The 49ers weren't expected to add another running back on Day 2 of the draft, but Davis-Price's presence boosts depth at a position that has frequently seen injuries in recent years and could help fill the void if the 49ers decide to no longer hand the ball off to Deebo Samuel this season.

Pre-camp prediction (5): As was the case after the draft, the projection here remains Mitchell, Wilson, Davis-Price, and Sermon winning roster spots, but assuming all backs stay healthy throughout the preseason, Sermon may have to earn it. There will be no suspense at fullback, with injury and/or unforeseen circumstances being the only thing that would knock Juice from his perch.

Wide receiver

State of the position: The 49ers should have one of the strongest pass-catching units in the league, assuming Deebo Samuel's situation gets resolved.
Players: Brandon Aiyuk, Danny Gray (R), Jauan Jennings, KeeSean Johnson, Marcus Johnson, Austin Mack, Taysir Mack (R), Tay Martin (R), Ray-Ray McCloud, Deebo Samuel, Malik Turner
Battle to watch: The No. 6 spot—if there is one
Questions to be answered:

1. Deebo, Deebo, Deebo: The Deebo Samuel saga stands atop this team's long list of offseason storylines that fans are most eager to see come to a close. As of writing this piece, Samuel was still without a new contract (but talks were ongoing). Will that change in the days ahead? If it doesn't, how will it affect the wide receiver picture? Either way, will there be fewer (if any) carries from him this season? All questions that are hopefully soon to be answered.

2. Is this Aiyuk's breakout moment? Things started strangely for Aiyuk in 2021 as he was reduced to a smaller-than-expected role in the early going while learning some lessons 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan wanted to teach him as a second-year player. But Aiyuk found momentum as the season went along and now appears poised to have the type of performance many felt he'd have heading into last season. Aiyuk and Lance have a chemistry, so it would be no surprise if there were big numbers from him in 2022.

3. Is Jennings the real deal? After coming on down the stretch in 2021, Jauan Jennings could give the 49ers a fearsome threesome at receiver if he continues to trend upward. Jennings showed late last year he has the ability to make plays when it counts, and if he can carry that over to an entire 17 games this season, he could be in for a special 2022.

4. What will Danny Gray and Ray-Ray McCloud bring? The third-round pick Gray adds some next-level speed to the 49ers' receiving room, along with some intriguing potential. Will he prove to be the type of over-the-top deep threat the 49ers can pair with the arm strength of Lance? McCloud heads into camp as the team's primary return specialist but has some shiftiness that Shanahan should be able to turn into a threat on offense.

5. Will there be a sixth receiver? The aforementioned five receivers are safe bets to make the roster. There will be a lot of competition for the sixth spot, if the 49ers decide to keep a sixth receiver. Between the several veterans and two undrafted rookies competing for that spot, it's likely at least a couple of them will wind up on the practice squad if they don't make the roster.

Pre-camp prediction (5): The Samuel stuff calms down, and he, Aiyuk, Jennings, McCloud, and Gray all keep their status as roster locks. Whether or not there's a sixth (and who it is) is still to be determined and could depend on how things shake out numbers-wise at other positions. Right now this projection has no room for a WR6.

Tight end

State of the position: Kittle remains the man... but there's plenty of veteran competition for the spots behind him. This position could wind up looking the same as it did in 2021, or it could end up looking much different.
Players: Ross Dwelley, Troy Fumagalli, Tanner Hudson, George Kittle, Tyler Kroft, Jordan Matthews, Charlie Woerner
Battle to watch: Everything behind Kittle.
Questions to be answered:

1. Will Dwelley and Woerner hold off the competition? Being incumbents at this position, Dwelley and Woerner head into training camp favored to keep their spots behind Kittle in the pecking order. But the 49ers recently added two veterans in Fumagalli and Kroft to bring competition to the rest of the group. It's certainly possible one of them could force the 49ers to make a decision on whether or not to keep their previous top three intact or to add a fourth tight end to the 53-man roster.

2. Will the Jordan Matthews experiment pay off? Despite the familiarity factor with Dwelley and the growth Woerner has shown, Matthews is the most intriguing candidate for a depth spot behind Kittle. Matthews has been working on making a transition from wide receiver to tight end over the past year, and if he proves to be comfortable at his new position, he would bring potential as a pass-catcher that the other non-Kittle candidates don't have. Keep an eye on him in camp.

Pre-camp prediction (3): Playing it safe with Kittle, Dwelley and Woerner being back again... but it wouldn't be a surprise to see a fourth tight end on the roster in Week 1.

Offensive line

State of the position: Tackle is set. Past that, let the competition begin!
Players: Aaron Banks, Daniel Brunskill, Jake Brendel, Spencer Burford (R), Alfredo Gutierrez, Mike McGlinchey, Colton McKivitz, Jaylon Moore, Jason Poe (R), Keaton Sutherland, Justin Skule, Sam Schlueter (R), Dohnovan West (R), Trent Williams, Nick Zakelj (R)
Battles to watch: Center, guard, depth
Questions to be answered:

1. Who will replace Alex Mack? Mack's decision to retire in June left the 49ers with their most glaring roster hole heading into camp. Whoever fills it won't have nearly the résumé of Mack, who finished his career as a seven-time Pro Bowl performer. One candidate is Brendel, who has bounced around the league since 2016 and has seemingly been impressing 49ers coaches behind the scenes. Brunskill has the ability to play there as well, and the 49ers have a rookie or two who could make a push. Or maybe the 49ers will decide to add another veteran to the mix here. Whatever happens, the fact that it isn't clear who will be at center in Lance's first season as a starter is an important story to watch.

2. Is Aaron Banks ready? A 2021 second-round pick, Banks didn't see much playing time as a rookie, but that appears set to change in 2022. Banks has been talked up by 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, who said in the spring that the team came close to getting him in the lineup as the 2021 season progressed. Banks is the favorite to take over the left guard spot vacated by the departure of Laken Tomlinson in free agency.

3. Who will start opposite Banks? Brunskill has 33 starts over the past two seasons, making him one of the favorites to start somewhere. If it isn't at guard, who will fill that spot? Moore is another top candidate, or maybe a rookie could sneak into the picture here.

4. How well will Mike McGlinchey bounce back? Even though the two starters at tackle are etched in stone with McGlinchey and Trent Williams, that doesn't mean there aren't questions at the position. The biggest issues there are health-related, as McGlinchey is coming off a torn quadriceps, while swing tackle Justin Skule is recovering from a torn ACL (even Williams had a battle with injuries in 2021, albeit not nearly as serious). McGlinchey seemed quite positive about his progress this offseason. It's a big season for him as he enters into the final season of his contract.

5. Which rookies will make the cut? The 49ers stocked up on youth on the offensive line back in the spring, adding Burford and Zakelj in the draft while also bringing in Poe, Schlueter, and West. Being a fourth-round pick with some positional versatility, Burford can be expected to snag a roster spot. Past that, it'll be interesting to see who else out of this group makes the final cut. Poe and West in particular were thought to be draftable prospects before falling into the 49ers' laps in free agency. Opportunities exist for more than one player out of this group to grab a spot.

Pre-camp prediction (9): We're glad we're not betting any money on how this turns out. Williams, McGlinchey, and Banks are safe bets to start. Moore, Brunskill, Burford, and Brendel are safe assumptions make the roster, but maybe that will change for Brendel if the 49ers add a center. Past that, we'll guess two stick around out of McKivitz, Skule and one other rookie. Maybe that rookie will be the sixth-round pick Zakelj, or someone like West, who could help at center but also brings versatility.

Defensive line

State of the position: Stacked to the point that there probably won't be enough room for every NFL-worthy player at this position to make the roster. And that's a good thing.
Players: Arik Armstead, Kevin Atkins (R), Alex Barrett, Nick Bosa, Kalia Davis (R), Samson Ebukam, Dee Ford, Kevin Givens, Maurice Hurst, Kerry Hyder Jr., Drake Jackson (R), Charles Omenihu, Hassan Ridgeway, Kemoko Turay, Jordan Willis, Javon Kinlaw
Battles to watch: The competition will be heated for the final roster spots on the defensive line.
Questions to be answered:

1. When will Nick Bosa become filthy rich? As noisy as things have been with Samuel's contract situation is as quiet as things have been with Bosa's, even though both are eligible for their first extensions. With Bosa, it's a matter of when, not if, and how much money it'll be when it happens. Might Bosa (or Samuel, for that matter) stay on the sidelines while waiting for a new deal, as T.J. Watt did with the Steelers last year? We'll see, but Bosa is expected to reach the $30 million per year mark whenever his next deal comes about.

2. Will this be Javon Kinlaw's breakout season? Kinlaw is coming off an injury-plagued 2021 season that saw him limited to just four games due to a knee injury. The news surrounding his offseason recovery was overwhelmingly positive, which is very good news for a 49ers team that needs him to step up in 2022. Kinlaw seems to be heading into this season determined to have the type of performance expected from him when the 49ers made him a first-round pick in 2020. It could certainly happen if he stays healthy.

3. Will Drake Jackson push the veterans? Many feel second-round pick Drake Jackson will prove to be a steal for the 49ers. His talent level exceeds his draft spot, and it sounds like he opened some eyes early and often after arriving in the spring. But Jackson will have to compete with a number of talented veterans to earn snaps at his position. Keep an eye on how hard he pushes them -- it won't be easy, but he has the potential to move ahead of a number of notable players not named Bosa.

4. Who stays? Who goes? The 49ers faced this same situation in 2021 when they had such a talented defensive line heading into the season. This year the depth is even greater. The decision could be tough at defensive end in particular. There could be some trade bait here for defensive line-needy teams when late August comes around. The one player on the list above who most likely won't be in the picture is Ford, who still remains on the roster but has an injury history that led to 49ers general manager John Lynch all but ruling him out for 2022.

Pre-camp prediction (11): Bosa, Kinlaw, Jackson, Armstead, Ebukam, Hurst, Hyder, Omenihu, Givens, Turay, and Ridgeway, with Davis on PUP... but this could play out in a few different ways. 11 could certainly prove to be too high of a guess for this position.


State of the position: Stable. There won't be much suspense over who makes the 53-man roster.
Players: Azeez Al-Shaair, Oren Burks, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, Jeremiah Gemmel (R), Dre Greenlaw, Marcelino McCrary-Ball (R), Segun Olubi (R), Curtis Robinson, Fred Warner
Battle to watch: If there is one it will come if someone unexpectedly pushes Flanigan-Fowles for his spot.
Questions to be answered:

1. Will Warner return to his standard? Fred Warner had an All-Pro season in 2020, which helped lead to a five-year, $95 million contract before the start of the 2021 season. But he didn't quite have the same type of performance in 2021 that he had in 2020, something that Warner admitted to towards the end of the year. Not that he was bad by any means, but Warner holds himself to higher expectations and demands. Let's see if he can return to All-Pro status in 2022.

2. What will a healthy Azeez Al-Shaair and Dre Greenlaw look like? Al-Shaair was a revelation in 2021 while stepping up for Greenlaw, who missed much of the regular season with a groin injury. Al-Shaair then had injury issues of his own towards the end of the season. It'll be fun to see what this group can do if both of them are on the field for the duration of 2022. It'll also be important for the future of this position, as each player is due for free agency next year.

3. How much of a role will Burks play at linebacker? The 49ers added Burks in free agency to help on special teams and at linebacker. Special teams has been his forte in the NFL, so he'll be expected to make a big impact there. Burks didn't make as much noise at linebacker in his previous four NFL seasons with the Packers after they added him as a third-round pick, but the 49ers feel he has the ability to be a valuable contributor on defense.

Pre-camp prediction (5): Warner, Greenlaw, Al-Shaair, Flannigan-Fowles, and Burks make the cut. The rest of the group definitely has some practice squad candidates but will have an uphill battle making the roster.


State of the position: A fairly deep and intriguing mix of youth and veterans, with a couple spots still to be determined.
Players: Tariq Castro-Fields (R), Darqueze Dennard, Ka'dar Hollman, Dontae Johnson, Qwuantrezz Knight (R), Deommodore Lenoir, Emmanuel Moseley, Ambry Thomas, Jason Verrett, Charvarius Ward, Samuel Womack III (R)
Battles to watch: Nickel corner and the final depth spot(s)
Questions to be answered:

1. Who replaces K'Waun? The 49ers bid adieu this offseason to nickel corner K'Waun Williams after five seasons with the team. Which player winds up filling that role is one of the biggest unknowns surrounding the 49ers defense at the moment. Lynch has spoken highly of Dennard, but there are a number of possibilities the 49ers could go with here.

2. Will Charvarius be worth the coin? The 49ers threw big money at Charvarius Ward (three years, $40.5 million) to lure him away from the Kansas City Chiefs in free agency. He'll step into the starting lineup and will be expected to have his share of shutdown moments. Will he prove to be worth that money, or even a bargain? The 49ers raved about the first impression he made this spring and think his best football is still ahead of him.

3. What will Verrett have in the tank? Poor Jason Verrett. Who knows how many accolades he'd have under his belt if he didn't have such a brutal injury history? Verrett missed the majority of the 2021 season with a torn ACL, marking the fifth time in sixth years he's missed most (if not all) of a season due to injury. The one time during that stretch he was able to stay healthy was in 2020, and during that time he played well enough to prove he never lost his ability to be a high-end starter in the NFL. He's back with the 49ers again this year on a one-year contract, but it's obviously tough to tell how much the 49ers can depend on him to remain on the field throughout the duration of the season. If he can bounce back, he'll be a huge asset to the cornerback room and could throw a curveball at some roster projections.

4. Will there be room for Lenoir? One look at the numbers suggests there won't be enough room for every worthy player at this position. There will be a tough decision or two the 49ers have to make. Lenoir was a fifth-round pick of the 49ers in 2021, but his long-term status has drawn some questions from reporters after his role decreased down the stretch as a rookie. He could have a battle on his hands to keep his spot.

Pre-camp prediction (6): Ward, Moseley, and Thomas feel like the safest three. It's hard to say past that. The choices here could prove difficult, especially if Verrett bounces back. For now, we'll put Verrett on PUP with Womack, Castro-Fields, and Dennard taking the final three spots.


State of the position: There might not wind up being much mystery over who makes the roster, but there are some questions surrounding the players who probably will.
Players: Tayler Hawkins (R), Talanoa Hufanga, Tarvarius Moore, George Odum, Leon O'Neal (R), Jimmie Ward
Battles to watch: Strong safety and how the depth fills out
Questions to be answered:

1. Will Hufanga be the heir apparent? The 49ers decided not to re-sign Jaquiski Tartt this offseason after seven seasons with the team. That creates an opening in the lineup next to Ward. Hufanga seemed to be trending last season in the direction of filling this role, but it isn't a sure thing. Moore and Odum will also have a shot.

2. How well will Moore bounce back? The 49ers need a healthy season from Moore, who was out in 2021 due to a torn Achilles. There doesn't seem to be any reason to think he won't be available in Week 1. If there are any setbacks, undrafted rookie Leon O'Neal could be next in line.

3. How much will Odum bring at safety? Like Burks, Odum made a name for himself on special teams before the 49ers added him in free agency this spring. But, like Burks, the 49ers added Odum with the expectation that he could contribute significantly on defense. Odum started seven games for the Colts in 2021. Could he bring more than that to the 49ers' defense in 2022? He'll have the opportunity to prove he deserves that type of role.

Pre-camp prediction (4): Ward and Hufanga start, Odum and Moore round out the depth. O'Neal is a good candidate for the practice squad.


State of the position: Same old, same old. This will look the same as it did in 2021.
Players: K Robbie Gould, LS Taybor Pepper, P Mitch Wishnowsky
Battles to watch: None. No competition is on the roster for any of these spots.
Questions to be answered: Eventually the 49ers will have to decide on the future here, with Wishnowsky and Gould in the final years of their contracts and Gould soon to surpass age 40. But all is quiet on the question front for this group heading into the season.
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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