Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Projected starters for the San Francisco 49ers in 2015

May 13, 2015 at 9:23 PM

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Despite all of the offseason hoopla surrounding the team, the projected starting lineup boasts a lot of familiar faces.

San Francisco 49ers Projected Starters

Offense Defense
QB: Colin Kaepernick LE: Darnell Dockett
HB: Carlos Hyde NT: Glen Dorsey
HB2: Reggie Bush RE: Tank Carradine
FB: Bruce Miller LOLB: Aaron Lynch
TE-Y: Vernon Davis Mike ILB: Navorro Bowman
TE-H: Vance McDonald Jack ILB: Michael Wilhoite
WR1: Anquan Boldin ROLB: Aldon Smith
WR2: Torrey Smith LCB: Chris Cook
SWR: Jerome Simpson RBC: Tramaine Brock
LT: Joe Staley SCB: Jimmie Ward
LG: Brandon Thomas SS: Antoine Bethea
C: Daniel Kilgore FS: Eric Reid
RG: Alex Boone K: Phil Dawson
RT: Anthony Davis P: Andy Lee

Bold = position not in jeopardy
Italic = position possibly in jeopardy
Underline = position greatly in jeopardy

Things changed, but not really.

The new starters I have going into Week 1 are Carlos Hyde, Torrey Smith, Brandon Thomas, Tank Carradine, Darnell Dockett, Aaron Lynch, Michael Wilhoite, Chris Cook, and Jimmie Ward. Out of that bunch, only Torrey Smith and Darnell Dockett are new to the team, but Smith was a 1,000 yard receiver for Baltimore just two years ago. Dockett is coming off an ACL injury (such a familiar injury to the team), but showed no signs of slowing down in 2013 when he played in all 16 games.

Last year, Frank Gore touched the ball in the backfield 255 times, compared to Hyde's 83. I suspect Tomsula will give Hyde 200-220 carries this upcoming season, so long Bush and Hunter stay healthy. While many 49er fans, including myself, are excited about the addition of Jarryd Hayne, it's a pipedream to think he'll get touches in the backfield as the fourth HB—but I do think he will see significant time on special teams.

It's hard to tell how much Reggie Bush has left in the tank, now at 30 years old, with over 1200 carries for his career. However, Baalke recently described Bush as an "asset to Colin Kaepernick" this offseason, during a SiriusXM NFL Radio interview. Additionally, Tomsula described Bush as an "every-down back" this past March. This seems to tell us that Bush will be the number 2 guy behind Hyde, and Hunter is once again buried as number three on the depth chart.

If Brandon Thomas is healthy, he looks to be the starter at LG going into Week 1 based on his upside and because Pears' natural position is tackle, which he played in his first nine seasons in the NFL. Last year in Buffalo was his first season playing guard, and he struggled mightily.

I have Vance McDonald as the second TE on the depth chart, but his drop percentage (15.8%) along with Baalke's TE hoarding makes me think that Carrier or Blake Bell could emerge as the number two guy. Don't forget, Baalke traded up in the 2013 Draft to get Vance, so you'd have to think that since Baalke now has a head coach that will play ball with his personnel moves, McDonald will be in the lineup, unless his dropped ball rate gets worse.

Jerome Simpson is an interesting signing. I have him as our slot guy based on his speed and experience. At 6'2", he's a big body that would likely frustrate small nickel corners, but he's too fast to be individually covered by a LB. He ran a 4.47 forty in 2008, and while his speed may have declined, he was out of football all of last year, so he does have fresh legs. For some reason, we have yet to see Patton or Ellington get significant playing time, but I hope that changes this year, as both have shown flashes of brilliance when given an opportunity.

As you could probably tell, this depth chart is set with the idea that Justin Smith will retire. If by some miracle he decides to return to a team that many predict to finish last in the West, he obviously gets the start over Carradine. I have Carradine's starting job in possible jeopardy because of one man: Quinton Dial. While he is listed as a NT, Tomsula recently said, "When you watched Quinton Dial toward the end of last year, that was a pretty dad-gum good nose guard. I see him more as an end." If there's one thing I do trust Tomsula with, it's his ability to understand the scheme of the defensive line. Carradine's strength is rushing the passer, while Dial is better at stopping the run. It may come down to what Tomsula and Mangini prefer for a guy who will play just inside of Aldon Smith, but don't sleep on Dial. Remember, Carradine tore his ACL in college, so it still remains undetermined if he can hold up starting for a full sixteen game season at the NFL level.

I wanted to put Dockett in italics, primarily because of his age and our depth on the D-Line, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. The guy may have a big mouth, and some awkward Tweets (asking Katherine Webb out on Twitter), but he's one hell of a defensive end. Even though he's smaller than most DEs, Dockett uses his leverage to beat defenders from the line of scrimmage.

Dorsey is in the underlined because of Ian Williams. It's really a toss-up at this point as to who will get the job. Williams' problem is that he just can't stay healthy. He was supposed to be the starting NT in 2013, but broke his ankle in Week 2 against Seattle, and was placed on IR, missing the entire season. Dorsey filled into the starting role, and exceeded all expectations. In fact, he was the projected starter going into Week 1 against Dallas in 2014, but tore his biceps before he could hit the field, was placed on IR, and missed the rest of the season. Williams was shifted into the starting role after Dorsey's injury, but once again, nine games into the season, Williams suffered another leg injury, this time a fracture in his lower leg, and ended 2014 the same way he ended 2013, on IR.

Based on his progress last year, it seems like Lynch will get the nod over Ahmad Brooks. They're basically the same player, guys who can rush the passer, but struggle in coverage, except Lynch is younger, faster, and more athletic than Brooks. Expect Brooks to get his share of snaps, but Lynch seems like the guy who will get the majority of the time on the field.

Wilhoite's job is safe based on his performance last year; he finished second on the team in tackles, just behind (gulp) Chris Borland. He's played in all sixteen games the past two seasons, which cannot be underappreciated for a team that seems to be ravaged by the injury bug every season. Additionally, there is absolutely no depth behind Wilhoite to even give him some form of competition in camp. Right now, the Niners have Nick Moody, Chase Thomas and Desmond Bishop—it's simply not realistic to think that any of them have a shot to start in the NFL at this stage in their respective careers. Lance Briggs may be added during camp, but he's another one, just like Bishop, who has shown a steady decline at the position.

I have both Chris Cook and Jimmie Ward underlined because neither one has set himself apart from the rest of the CBs on the roster. Ward is still a raw prospect, and Cook has never been a guy that quarterbacks shy away from. Both will have opportunities to show their ability, as opposing QBs will pick them instead of Brock, who has proven to be a reliable corner that rarely gives up the big play. If Cook gets burned often and early weeks in the season, expect Dontae Johnson to replace him, and if Ward can't cover the slot receiver well enough, look for Keith Reaser to get some playing time. Although Reaser tore his ACL in 2013, he ran a 4.32 forty pre-injury, so if he can get back to that speed, he could take over for a struggling Ward.

All-in-all, I don't think this team is as bad as the national media is portraying us to be. On paper, I still think we have the second best roster in the NFC West, and the fourth best roster in the NFC, behind Seattle, Dallas, and Green Bay. Gore is aging and can't outrun defensive backs anymore, so his loss hurts more in the locker room more than on playing field. Although Iupati is a great mauler, he is average at best in pass protection. Crabtree has always underachieved, and his cancerous attitude should bring a less divisive locker room. Willis, Dorsey, Williams, Bowman, and Brock all missed significant time last year, yet the Niners defense still finished in the top five, again. Four out of five of those guys are returning, and if Smith stays, we only have two big losses with Borland and Willis. Cox and Culliver can both be replaced and Darnell Dockett is an upgrade over Ray McDonald. The real question will be the coaching. Remember, Tomsula and Mangini were both part of a coaching staff that oversaw a top 5 defense last year, and even though Mangini worked strictly with TEs, I don't expect any drastic scheme changes now that he's our DC, so everyone retuning from injuries should feel comfortable when we face Minnesota come September.
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.


  • Matt
    Shouldn't Martin be the starting center with Kilgore challenging him? Even if you believe Kilgore is the starter now, you have to put him down as seriously challenged by Martin. You know Balke would rather see Martin step into that role...Kilgore has no upside long term. Better backup.
    May 19, 2015 at 6:11 AM
  • al wharton
    all of this depends on the development of Kap. and how the OL holds up. We no longer have a great Defense , we might have a good D , so the defense won't bail the Offense out . Go Colts
    May 18, 2015 at 12:51 PM
  • MartyOne
    Chase Thomas suffered a terrible injury during practice, and was waived before the Draft. Shayne Skov is the LB you were probably mixed up with. Bishop, Moody, Wheeler, and Skov, are good depth at the ILB position behind Bowman and Wilhoite. Sure, that's still a decline without Willis and Borland.
    May 15, 2015 at 10:39 AM
  • Kellrazor
    No Eli Harold in your rotation? I promise you, him and Armstead will both have a big impact in the defensive scheme. Don't count out Taart either... Reid is concussion prone, and Dahl saw a lot of time last year with little impact. Harold, Lynch/Brooks and Aldon Smith off the edge should play well with our solid d-line. Getting to the QB will help the secondary. Also--- Dontae Johnson and Shareece Wright will see the field a lot more than Chris Cook. In my opinion.
    May 15, 2015 at 8:06 AM
  • Micah
    sorry but Andy Lee's job is in jeopardy. If Pinion kicks even close to Lee in camp, the team will take the big cap savings.
    May 14, 2015 at 3:56 PM
    Response: You're right, if Pinion does kick well, then Lee could be in trouble. However, Lee's only weakness has been his high touchback rate. While he did also rank in the middle of the road in net punting average, I don't put much stock into net punting, because if a gunner or someone else misses a tackle, it negatively impacts Lee, with no fault of his own. Lee also isn't a guy that outkicks the coverage either. With that being said, Lee was sixth in the NFL last year in gross punting average, which shows he still has a strong leg. Moreover, Lee was ninth in the NFL in punts inside the 20, so he can still spot the ball pretty well, which is a weakness of Pinion according to scouting reports. For the record, Lee is the fifth highest paid punter in the NFL, and if he does get cut, the Niners will save approximately $1.5 million.
  • Chris
    You think they would ever try Dorsey at RE and have Ian Willams at NT? I would hate for one of those guys to sit if they are both healthy.
    May 14, 2015 at 3:32 PM
    Response: Having two great NTs is a great problem to have. Honestly, I'm not sure if Tomsula is comfortable moving Dorsey to RDE. I haven't been able to find any interviews or quotes where anyone in the Niners organization has suggested moving Dorsey, like they have with Dial.
  • mbniner
    Overall not a bad projection except that Lee is in serious jeopardy. I disagree that Bishop's play has shown a steady decline. He was a beast at GB prior to a severe injury. He sat a year and returned to play OK the next year, probably still feeling the effects of the injury. However, at the end of last season he started to play very well for the Niners, check the game tape. I think that he will emerge to challenge Wilhoite. Also, I think that Kendall Hunter will be the #2 RB.
    May 14, 2015 at 12:34 PM
  • holmeslice
    Anyway, why are we so focused on the defense? The defense should be fine. The offense on the other hand could be pretty bad (again). If the offensive line stays healthy and plays better and Kap improves his passing efficiency, we have a chance to compete. If either of those things don't happen, it's going to be another middling season...
    May 14, 2015 at 10:28 AM
  • JimHarbaugh
    I really do think that Ahmad Brooks should be moved to MLB. Keep Lynch & Aldon on the field as much as possible and that will open up opportunities for Eli Harold.
    May 14, 2015 at 8:58 AM
  • Frank M
    Given this is only May and not even a mini-camp's happened yet, it's premature to call the 53-man roster. Be that as it may, not sure McDonald will be the #2 TE. He's got some back issues as I understand it. You really think Lynch will beat out Brooks, eh. Not so sure about that, either. Baalke kept Ahmad for a reason. Ditto Cook beating out Wright or one or two others. Lee's position could be in jeopardy...Pinion has a huge leg and could be a factor. I wouldn't say Dawson's totally safe, either. BL: there are a lot of things that haven't happened yet to declare a 53-man roster. Expect some changes.
    May 14, 2015 at 8:56 AM
    Response: Good points, Frank. I agree with you on McDonald, that's why I listed him as having his starting job as the #2 TE "possibly in jeopardy." If Baalke had not traded up for him, I would have had his job downgraded to "greatly in jeopardy." I picked Lynch over Brooks for a few reasons: Brooks played 603 defensive snaps last year, while Lynch played in 514, this amounts to 57.5% and 49.1%, respectively, of snap percentage on total defense. Lynch is younger, has more upside than Brooks, and still tied Brooks for the team leader in sacks, despite playing in 89 fewer snaps than Brooks. Both are pass rushing OLBs, so a situational difference cannot explain the same sack total. However, my primary reason is that Brooks was recently accused of sexual harassment, along with Ray McDonald, by the alleged victim. Based on what happened to McDonald last year, if the lawsuit against Brooks gets significant traction this summer, I would expect him to be cut before Week 1. If the 49ers chose to release or trade Brooks before June 1, they would save $1,508,750, while taking on a dead money hit worth $5,546,250 in 2015. If they choose to designate him as a June 1 release, they would see savings of $4,706,250, while having dead money hits of $2,348,750 in 2015, and $3,197,500 in 2016. (cap numbers credited to NinersNation)
  • Paladin
    You overlooked Kenneth Acker and Shareece Wright at CB and completely overlooked our punt and kickoff returners. Look for Jarred Hayne to win the kick return job. Huge at 226 and runs a 4.5. He'll also shine on kick coverage as he hits like a linebacker.
    May 14, 2015 at 8:41 AM
  • Daniel
    So about Phillip Wheeler at ILB.....He's no stud. But he certainly gives us more depth at the position.
    May 14, 2015 at 8:23 AM
  • David
    James, Ward is a real liability in coverage. He may improve, but who knows? You can't just blindly say that he will hold onto the job, especially if other youngsters continue to improve and he doesn't.
    May 14, 2015 at 7:22 AM
    Response: Thanks for the feedback, David. I agree with you, that's why I listed Ward as a starter whose status is "greatly in jeopardy."
  • james brinson
    Really Ward's job already in jeopardy?? LOL
    May 14, 2015 at 6:00 AM
  • Holmeslice
    good analysis. I think the cornerback spots are very much up for grabs. I hope Ward and Brock can stay healthy, but foot injuries are notoriously difficult to shake and so I think we need to be prepared for both to be unavailable. The news on Ward is particularly troubling. I won't be surprised if Johnson, Acker and Cook/Reaser see the most playing time this season.
    May 14, 2015 at 2:40 AM
  • I expect that Brooks
    ----will start at MLB. He and Bowman would be very tough to deal with.
    May 14, 2015 at 1:04 AM
  • Garrett
    Go over your list carefully, your crazy if you don't think Andy Lee is in serious jeopardy of losing his job. I was shocked by the Pinion selection but you don't select a punter in the 5th if your not serious about it. I hate to say it but given his current situation I think Bruce Miller is gonna have to earn it this year more than previously too, Trey Millard is very talented. I think Wilhoite will have stiff competition but in the end I expect him to line up next to Bowman. I think currently Shareece Wright has the edge on one of the top 2 corner spots also. Other than that though I think its pretty accurate lol. Can't wait for training camp!!!
    May 13, 2015 at 11:33 PM
  • bobby babila
    Seahawks will beat niners
    May 13, 2015 at 11:33 PM
  • Maria Inzunza
    I think out team is gonna be off the hook this coming season!! Go Niners!! You got this!! ????...
    May 13, 2015 at 10:03 PM

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