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5 49ers on the roster bubble ahead of training camp

Rohan Chakravarthi
Jul 20, 2023 at 12:05 PM--

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The San Francisco 49ers begin the final portion of their offseason when the team returns for training camp next Tuesday, July 25th, marking the final chance for players to prove themselves before the beginning of the 2023 season.

While most of San Francisco's core is set, there are several positions where training camp battles could ensue to round out the remainder of the roster, which means that a few players could be on the roster bubble and will require a strong camp to prove themselves.

Who could be at risk of losing their roster spot as training camp approaches?

1. CB Ambry Thomas

Ambry Thomas has experienced a tumultuous career in San Francisco after being selected in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft, leading to his current position on the roster.

After falling behind the eight ball initially, to fellow 2021 draftee Deommodore Lenoir, Thomas got his opportunity towards the end of his rookie season, starting the final seven games, including two playoff starts.

But, following San Francisco's signing of Charvarius Ward, mixed with a poor training camp showing from Thomas last offseason, the cornerback is on the fringe of the roster bubble heading into the 2023 offseason, facing competition from 2022 fifth-rounder Samuel Womack and 2023 fifth-round Darrell Luter Jr.

Thomas could be the sixth cornerback, should San Francisco choose to carry six on their 53-man roster, but could be at risk of losing his roster spot without a strong training camp.

2. DT Javon Kinlaw

Like Ambry Thomas, defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw has experienced a tumultuous career after being drafted with high expectations, although most of his shortcomings have come due to injury.

Over his first three seasons, Kinlaw has played in 24 of a possible 49 games, which has stunted his development, along with the 49ers penchant for using a rotation for their interior defensive linemen.

Kinlaw faces a tough offseason ahead, looking to fight for a roster spot alongside fellow defensive tackles Kerry Hyder Jr., T.Y. McGill, Kevin Givens, and Kalia Davis.

Kinlaw's potential has been well-documented, but the 49ers may look to cut their losses and roster a better option if they don't see improvements from the 2020 first-round pick this offseason.

3. LB Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles

Over his three-year career in San Francisco, Flannigan-Fowles has been a sound contributor on special teams for the 49ers, which has earned him a roster spot during that period.

With Azeez Al-Shaair's departure creating a need, you would think that Flannigan-Fowles's chances to make the roster are now increased, but the 26-year-old may be on the roster bubble once again.

Why? Because San Francisco elected to draft two linebackers, TCU's Dee Winters and Purdue's Jalen Graham, in the sixth and seventh rounds, respectively, and still have undrafted free agents Marcelino McCrary-Ball and Curtis Robinson, who are determined to make the 53-man roster as well.

Flannigan-Fowles' value as a special teamer is unquestioned, but if the 49ers' believe that one of their other options could be better suited to contribute as a linebacker, either now, or in the near future, then they could look elsewhere, understanding that they still have Oren Burks on the roster, who presents significant special teams value as well.

4. TE Ross Dwelley

Ross Dwelley has experienced the entirety of his five-year career with the 49ers, but has seen his role consistently decrease after a 2020 season where he played in 46% of the team's offensive snaps due to injuries to star George Kittle.

Now, in a crucial 2023 offseason, Dwelley could be at risk of missing out on the 53-man roster for the first time since 2018, in part due to the team's thoughts about his value, as well as the overcrowded room.

The 49ers looked to revamp the tight end room by selecting Cameron Latu in the third round and Brayden Willis in the seventh round, both of whom could make the active roster.

San Francisco has looked to carry three to four tight ends on the active roster each year, choosing the latter option last year, but has five viable options with Kittle, Charlie Woerner, Latu, Dwelley, and Willis, likely resulting in a tough roster decision, meaning Dwelley will need a strong performance to likely have a chance at a roster spot.

5. OL Nick Zakelj

Nick Zakelj may be an unexpected name to round out this list, given his draft status as a 2022 sixth-round selection, but he could potentially be on the roster bubble, depending on the number of offensive linemen that San Francisco carries on their roster.

Zakelj had a tougher first offseason, struggling to deal with bull rushes and anchoring during training camp and the preseason, and could be tasked with a bigger responsibility as a backup interior offensive lineman in 2022.

In addition to Zakelj, the 49ers have Jon Feliciano, who signed a one-year, fully-guaranteed, $2.25 million deal this offseason, and Jason Poe, who looked better than the 2022 sixth-rounder last offseason, as competition on the interior.

The 49ers also are likely to carry at least one of their backup tackles, needing depth at the position, which limits the number of options that they could carry on the interior.

If San Francisco chooses to go with eight offensive linemen on their 53-man roster, the 49ers could be tasked with choosing between two of Zakelj, Poe, and Feliciano, but they could prefer nine offensive linemen and roster all three options.

Zakelj has been pegged as a potential candidate to take over as the center of the future but will need to show improvement to solidify a spot on the roster during this year's training camp.
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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