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7 position battles to watch for during 49ers’ preseason games

Rohan Chakravarthi
Aug 12, 2022 at 2:04 PM

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The San Francisco 49ers made it their mission to add quality depth to the roster in the offseason, spending money in free agency on high-quality starters, as well as valuable backups, while also drafting nine players and signing an abundance of undrafted free agents.

As a result, several preseason battles will dictate whether players on the bubble will make the roster, or instead will be looking from the outside once the 53-man roster is finalized on August 30th.

Here are the important cutdown dates for the 2022 offseason:

Let's look into some of those preseason battles and pinpoint which players could eclipse their peers on the depth chart with a good end to the offseason.

1. RB4 - Jeff Wilson Jr. vs Jordan Mason vs JaMycal Hasty

The 49ers are one of the most run-heavy teams in the NFL and appear poised to return to a committee of running backs in 2022, according to insider Matt Maiocco.

Additionally, the team has faced significant injuries at the position, so the fourth running back on the roster may see more playing time than expected, which is why this battle between three specific players will be intriguing to watch as the preseason progresses.

Currently, in my opinion, there are three locks for the roster: Elijah Mitchell, Trey Sermon, and Tyrion Davis-Price, however; that fourth spot is in the air between Jeff Wilson Jr., Jordan Mason, and JaMycal Hasty.

According to the depth chart in training camp, Wilson is beginning the preseason as the favorite, having been the only back of the trio to see action with the first-team offense. Additionally, Wilson is heading into his fifth season with the 49ers, having a demonstrated knowledge of the Kyle Shanahan offense.

However, Wilson had a slower start to training camp before coming along towards the back half, and is an unrestricted free agent in 2023, while Jordan Mason has several years of team control on the roster.

Mason, an undrafted free agent this offseason, has flashed in minimal play, showcasing power, speed, and the ability to catch passes, making him a potential third-down back on a team that doesn't appear to have a defined one currently in their rotation.

Wilson has served as the third-down back before, and could very well take that role again, but this preseason will be interesting to watch because Jordan Mason will get his first look at significant snaps over the course of an entire game.

JaMycal Hasty, the other running back in the rotation, has struggled at times with his receiving talent, dropping some passes in training camp. He's an explosive runner, but also is a smaller back, while the 49ers have a number of options in the running game currently in their rotation.

All three have flashed at times in training camp. Who will stand out the most in extended opportunities?

2. WR3 - Jauan Jennings vs Ray-Ray McCloud

Coming into training camp, it appeared that the 49ers had a set starting trio of receivers in Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, and Jauan Jennings.

But, following an underwhelming camp from Jennings, as well as an impressive camp from Ray-Ray McCloud, could that change?

Jennings has faced drop issues, as well as a failure to separate, which has led to several incompletions thrown his way, both during 1-on-1s and 11-on-11s. Meanwhile, McCloud has exhibited smooth route-running and shiftiness out of the slot, with the requisite speed to get open from defenders and make plays.

There is a notable size difference between the duo, so maybe that plays a factor into who the 49ers end up starting, but if Jennings continues to underwhelm, I wouldn't be surprised if McCloud slowly started taking snaps with the starters. He's already seen time with the first-team offense during training camp, and built a rapport with Trey Lance during a strong OTAs/minicamp performance.

Jennings does have the ability to block as a receiver, which may impact the snap count as well, but this battle between two younger receivers will be one to monitor.

3. C1 - Jake Brendel vs Daniel Brunskill

The center competition is perhaps the biggest battle for the 49ers, as it decides the winner of a starting spot, as opposed to a backup spot. In fact, center might be the only battle where a starting spot has still yet to be claimed.

Jake Brendel and Daniel Brunskill have been entrenched in a battle at the position since the beginning of training camp, with the duo consistently rotating with the first-team offense day by day.

Brunskill has had an underwhelming training camp, being marred by snap and pass-protection issues, paving the way for Brendel to be the top center on the 49ers' current depth chart.

Will the latter continue to pull away from the job or will the former bounce back with a strong preseason to give the coaching staff a tough decision to make?

Brunskill does have the NFL experience, having played all five options for the 49ers, including some run at center in 2020, but Brendel has been praised by offensive line coach Chris Foerster during interviews with the media.

If he becomes a backup, Brunskill could be the super-utility player for the 49ers along the offensive line, which, in itself, is an asset for the team.

4. TE2/TE3 - Tyler Kroft vs Tanner Hudson vs Ross Dwelley vs Troy Fumagalli

The top tight end spot for the 49ers is certainly solidified with All-Pro talent George Kittle, who has shined in training camp as essentially Trey Lance's second option behind Brandon Aiyuk.

However, the depth chart behind him is currently unclear, as all four of the aforementioned tight ends are vying for two roster spots, assuming that third-year player Charlie Woerner continues to be on the Physically Unable to Play(PUP) list come Week 1.

Each of the four candidates has made different catches in training camp, varying from deep 30-yard catches to intermediate touchdown catches, to throws towards the flat.

With the 49ers' affinity for two tight-end sets, as well as the extended amount of playing time that each should receive, preseason could be the clearest indicator as to who San Francisco keeps on their roster and who is on the outside looking in.

Veteran tight end Jordan Matthews, who was looking sharp over the first two practices in training, tore his ACL during a non-contact 1-on-1 rep, ending his season and opening opportunities for other backups to make a push for those last two tight end spots.

5. EDGE - Kemoko Turay vs Drake Jackson vs Charles Omenihu

The 49ers have a number of talented edge-rushers, who will all receive their opportunities to rush the passer during training camp, which could very well indicate how the depth chart looks come Week 1.

Three, in particular, are vying for that "next-man-up" role in Kemoko Turay, Charles Omenihu, and Drake Jackson.

Omenihu currently is the clear-cut favorite and could even play with the first-team defense in pass-rushing situations to start the season, given his versatility with playing inside or out, as well as his familiarity with the system, as he's coming into his second year with the 49ers.

Both Turay and Jackson have flashed in training camp, with the former receiving more snaps with the second-team defense, but the latter possessing intrigue with his unique traits.

While all three should play a role for the 49ers, with more snaps for each player, I'm intrigued to see whose training camp performance carries over to the preseason.

6. LB6 - Curtis Robinson vs Marcelino McCrary-Ball vs Segun Olubi

The 49ers normally carry only five linebackers on the depth chart. However, they have such a talented room of players at the position, where players could get traded following a strong preseason, such as Jonas Griffith last year.

All three of the aforementioned linebackers have flashed in training camp, with Robinson serving as a vocal leader at the MIKE linebacker with the second-team defense, while McCrary-Ball and Olubi have showcased their speed at the position, which is something the 49ers covet, hence the signing of Oren Burks as a developmental linebacker and special-teams player, as well as Marcell Harris, who played a good amount in 2021 over Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles after being converted to the position.

McCrary-Ball and Olubi could be developmental pieces that eventually fill in for the current linebackers in Azeez Al-Shaair and Dre Greenlaw, both of whom are free agents in 2023, while Robinson is that prototypical middle linebacker.

With extended play, I'm excited to see which player builds off their training camp flashes into the preseason, where one could potentially get traded.

7. CB3 - Deommodore Lenoir vs Ambry Thomas

This battle has been one that developed last offseason, when the two cornerbacks were rookies that were competing to start opposite of Jason Verrett while Emmanuel Moseley was nursing an injury.

That player ended up being Deommodore Lenoir, although Ambry Thomas eclipsed him towards the second half of the season, earning starts from Weeks 13-18 while Moseley suffered a foot injury.

Fast-fowarding to this offseason, Lenoir has been the better cornerback, flashing early in camp while Thomas significantly struggled.

However, with Charvarius Ward and Emmanuel Moseley currently injured, both cornerbacks are going to get chances to prove themselves as they'll start opposite each other like they did during the last two days of training camp.

Both players are likely to make the roster, and given the likelihood of injury occurring during the season at the cornerback position, one of the two might be required to start, which is why this battle is one to be monitored as the preseason begins.
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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