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49ers pre-training camp 53-man roster projection

Rohan Chakravarthi
Jul 26, 2023 at 9:00 AM--

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The San Francisco 49ers are known as one of the NFL's strongest teams top-to-bottom due to their core of elite players they've been able to develop via the draft and obtain via free agency or the trade market.

However, even the strongest teams face tough roster decisions come roster cutdown time, and the 49ers are no different this year, with some position groups stronger than others, which could lead to intriguing training camp battles.

With training camp scheduled to start today, it's the perfect time to release the first edition of my 53-man roster projections, which will likely change as the offseason comes to an end.

Quarterback (3): Brock Purdy, Trey Lance, Sam Darnold

No surprises here at the quarterback position.

At the moment, I don't envision a trade for Trey Lance or Sam Darnold, and expect the 49ers to carry all three of their top options on the 53-man roster this season, just as they did in 2022 when holding onto Brock Purdy in addition to Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo.

While the depth chart of the group could certainly change during training camp, all signs point to the 49ers retaining all of their players, as Lance and Darnold provide good insurance as cheaper backups.

Running Back (4): Christian McCaffrey, Elijah Mitchell, Jordan Mason, Tyrion Davis-Price

Christian McCaffrey is an evident lock after he was obtained from the Carolina Panthers during the trade deadline last season, and still has three years of team control left, keeping him with the 49ers through his age-29 season.

Elijah Mitchell and Jordan Mason figure to serve as the top backups this season behind McCaffrey, creating one of the strongest running back rooms in the NFL, but San Francisco could potentially move the former if they receive a solid offer for the former sixth-round pick's services.

My thoughts at the moment? No offer would be good enough to pry Mitchell, who still has two seasons left on his rookie deal, away, and his value as insurance keeps him in San Francisco as they try for a Super Bowl in 2023.

Tyrion Davis-Price is the true wildcard after a disappointing rookie season that saw him out of action for most of the year. He comes into this training camp as the leader for the fourth roster spot at the position, should they carry that many, but will need to outperform undrafted free agent backs Ronald Awatt and Khalan Laborn.

Fullback (1): Kyle Juszczyk

Let's move forward.

Wide Receiver (5): Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Jauan Jennings, Ray-Ray McCloud, Danny Gray

I've got the same exact group as last season.

Samuel and Aiyuk are self-explanatory. Jennings's value as a blocker and a third-down option keeps him in San Francisco, as there isn't another player with his skillset, which is a great fit with the 49ers offense.

McCloud had a significant role on special teams last season, and provides insurance as a gadget player who looked good in limited action last season.

The question is more so: do the 49ers carry five or six receivers? A sixth opening would add an opportunity for seventh-round rookie Ronnie Bell or undrafted free agent Tay Martin to make the roster, and I'd lean towards the latter between the two.

But, I believe San Francisco utilizes that spot elsewhere, hence the five players at the position on my projection.

Tight End (4): George Kittle, Charlie Woerner, Cameron Latu, Brayden Willis

George Kittle's an obvious lock, but there could be true competition here with the backups, depending on whether the 49ers carry three or four tight ends.

I believe the 49ers still value Woerner, given his blocking ability, and think that he'll be the top backup to Kittle come Week 1, hence his spot here on the 53-man projection.

Latu seems like a lock due to his draft status, leaving the question of whether San Francisco carries three or four at the position.

I've got four, with Brayden Willis taking the last spot. He's got an intriguing skillset, and I potentially like him even more than Latu, depending on his usage.

Another scenario I could envision is the 49ers cutting both Ross Dwelley and Charlie Woerner, looking to bring the latter back on the practice squad and elevating him to the active roster for the first few weeks.

Offensive Line (8): Trent Williams, Aaron Banks, Jake Brendel, Spencer Burford, Colton McKivitz, Matt Pryor, Nick Zakelj, Jon Feliciano,

The starting five seems fairly set with Williams, Banks, Brendel, Burford, and McKivitz, leaving a few spots for the backups available.

Feliciano's one-year, $2.25 million fully guaranteed contract makes him likely to make the roster, especially when given his veteran status and interior versatility.

The 49ers need tackle insurance, hence the addition of Matt Pryor, who makes the roster over Jaylon Moore, and Nick Zakelj takes the final spot with the hopes he takes a bigger step during training camp, as he could be a solid interior option with the potential to flex out to tackle if needed.

Defensive Line (10): Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Javon Hargrave, Drake Jackson, Kevin Givens, Clelin Ferrell, T.Y. McGill, Kalia Davis, Robert Beal Jr., Javon Kinlaw

One of the tougher rooms to project given the number of available players, I have the 49ers choosing ten defensive linemen for their initial 53-man roster this season with an interesting divide: four true EDGE players and six interior defensive linemen.

The starting four are locks, while the 49ers hold several key backups that could compete for a roster spot.

Clelin Ferrell seems to be a lock, given his contract and the fact that he's the top backup at defensive end currently. Additionally, the contributions of Kevin Givens and T.Y. McGill last season earned them a roster spot.

The eighth and ninth spots go to Kalia Davis, an emerging player who could have a bigger role than anticipated, and Robert Beal Jr., the 49ers' fifth-round pick this season who could compete at the edge, while I settled on Kinlaw over Austin Bryant, Kerry Hyder, and Co., as he's reportedly fully healthy and gone through a solid offseason so far.

Linebacker (5): Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw, Oren Burks, Jalen Graham, Marcelino McCrary-Ball

One of the rooms with the biggest competition this offseason, the 49ers return top players Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw, who had outstanding 2022 seasons to their expectations.

Oren Burks slides into the Azeez Al-Shaair role, as he was the top backup last season, and has flashed at the spot this offseason in addition to his special-teams excellence.

That leaves two spots between Jalen Graham, Marcelino McCrary-Ball, Dee Winters, and Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles. It was tough to project these spots, but McCrary-Ball fits the 49ers' linebacker mold as a safety-converted-linebacker who can impose his will at the line of scrimmage, while having solid speed in coverage.

Additionally, Graham provides something different than Winters, who could be seen as similar to Oren Burks, and possesses good sideline-to-sideline speed in addition to his skillset, earning him the final spot.

Cornerback (5): Charvarius Ward, Deommodore Lenoir, Isaiah Oliver, Samuel Womack, Darrell Luter Jr.

Charvarius Ward and Deommodore Lenoir retake their starting spots on the outside, while Isaiah Oliver slides into the starting nickel role after a few seasons with the Atlanta Falcons.

That leaves two backup spots for a few players in Samuel Womack, Darrell Luter, Ambry Thomas, and undrafted free agent D'Shawn Jamison.

I prefer the former two, as Womack had high hopes in 2022 and serves as good special-teams value, while Luter flashed for the 49ers, both pre and post-draft, which warrants him earning a spot in 2023.

The bigger question is: will the 49ers carry six cornerbacks or end up with only five on the 53-man roster? If its the former, Ambry Thomas has a better chance to potentially earn a roster spot, while it'll be a tougher road for him if the latter option is chosen.

Safety (5): Talanoa Hufanga, Tashaun Gipson, Ji'Ayir Brown, George Odum, Myles Hartsfield

Hufanga, Gipson, and Brown are the three locks with this unit, although there could be competition from the third-round rookie to start opposite the All-Pro with a strong training camp.

Odum makes the roster over younger options due to his special teams ability, which the 49ers seem to have placed a value on, leaving a final roster spot between Hartsfield and 2022 undrafted rookies Tayler Hawkins and Qwuantrezz Knight.

While I was leaning towards Hawkins earlier in the offseason, Hartsfield earns the nod due to his prior history with Steve Wilks as versatility to play multiple positions in the secondary, which could be helpful when going with just five cornerbacks.

ST(3): Jake Moody, Mitch Wishnowsky, Taybor Pepper

Jake Moody in, Robbie Gould out.
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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