Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports


San Francisco 49ers: UDFAs with the best chance to make 53-man roster

May 26, 2017 at 9:09 AM


The San Francisco 49ers brought in a number of undrafted free agents following the 2017 NFL Draft, and let's look at those with the best chance of making the 53-man roster this season.


Undrafted free agents are almost always roster fillers, and rarely do they get the chance to make a regular-season roster.

At best, some wind up on the practice squad and are given a season or two to develop their pro-level skills with the hopes of being promoted -- or signed by another team -- at some point later on.

The San Francisco 49ers are in a unique situation though. Going through a complete roster overhaul, the Niners can afford to give serious consideration to UDFAs who distinguish themselves in the various minicamps, OTAs, training camp and the preseason. And according to NFL.com's Chad Reuter, the 49ers landed the second best UDFA class in the entire league this offseason.

Some names, like former Baylor wide receiver K.D. Cannon, are gone. But there are still a number of notable players who might actually have a shot at cracking the Niners roster this season.

Let's focus on some of those names and see which UDFAs have the best chance to make it through final roster cuts.

Safety Lorenzo Jerome


Former St. Francis safety Lorenzo Jerome has already been a standout so far, recording one interception during rookie minicamp and another off a tipped pass from the hands of quarterback C.J. Beathard during OTAs. The Sacramento Bee's Matt Barrows broke down the play here.

Jerome had six interceptions in college last season, the last of 18 total he posted during his collegiate career.

He projects as a free safety at the pro level, which will be of utmost importance to the 49ers this season. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh will be implementing a Cover 3 defense, which requires a single-high safety to act as a center-fielder of sorts.

Currently, the Niners are eyeing defensive back Jimmie Ward in this role. But Ward has a bit of an injury history, so adequate depth should be considered a high priority.

If Jerome continues to prove his value, he'll likely be a part of that discussion.

Running Back Matt Breida


The 49ers may have answered their long-term running back needs by selecting former Utah tailback Joe Williams in Round 4 of the 2017 draft.

Williams and fellow runner Carlos Hyde figure to be the one-two tandem in head coach Kyle Shanahan's offense, but don't count out rookie UDFA Matt Breida.

Breida's senior season at Georgia Southern was a bit of a disappointment. He averaged just 3.8 yards per carry on 168 attempts, which was down considerably from the 8.7 and 7.9 yards-per-attempt averages from 2014 and 2015, respectively. This is likely a major reason why he went undrafted.

But, as KNBR 680's Kevin Jones pointed out, Breida was apparently the biggest standout at 49ers rookie minicamp earlier this offseason, at least according to one assistant:


Depending on how many running backs Shanahan keeps on the roster, Breida will likely end up competing for the No. 3 or No. 4 tailback spot between now and Week 1. His primary competition is comprised of Kapri Bibbs, Tim Hightower and Raheem Mostert.

If Breida continues his head-turning ways, he may have a shot.

Tight End Cole Hikutini


Tight end George Kittle may be receiving much of the buzz outside of the team's NFL Draft actions, but don't sleep on former Louisville TE Cole Hikutini.

The 6-foot-4, 247-pound Hikutini led Louisville in receptions last season with 50 and ranked second on the team with 668 receiving yards. As a pass-catching option, Hikutini is solid. Although his lackluster blocking abilities likely kept him from being drafted, the Niners didn't hesitate to pick him up as soon as they could.

Here's what Vice President of Player Personnel Adam Peters had to say about the rookie tight end (h/t Eric Branch of SFGate.com):

I really liked him just for our offense. Maybe not everybody's, but I think as far as what Kyle [Shanahan] is looking for in a tight end: A guy who's a separator that can get open underneath. I saw something in him that, for a guy down the line (in the draft), I thought he had something special. A guy that was better than maybe his numbers suggested.

Hikutini was already part of a deep draft class and has competition with a relatively deep incumbent group.

San Francisco already has returning tight ends Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek and Blake Bell in place. In addition to Kittle, the 49ers also signed veteran TE Logan Paulsen, largely due to his work with Shanahan's offense in previous seasons.

Yet McDonald, Celek and Bell are already in danger of losing roster spots. McDonald was the subject of trade talks before the NFL Draft, so that says enough about what the team is considering doing here.

Hikutini may have a steep road to climb, but there's a good chance he winds up landing on the back end of the tight end depth chart when the season starts.
  • Written by:
    Peter Panacy has been writing about the 49ers since 2011 for outlets like Bleacher Report, Niner Noise, 49ers Webzone, and is occasionally heard as a guest on San Francisco's 95.7 FM The Game and the Niners' flagship station, KNBR 680. Feel free to follow him, or direct any inquiries to his Twitter account.
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.


1 Comment

  • mbniner
    I think that Kittle is a lock at TE. But don't count McDonald out. He has excellent speed and improved his catching greatly last season. I think that Hikutini will have to compete with Paulson, Celeck and Bell for probably one roster spot. Juscick (spelling?) is so versatile that he may negate the need for a fourth TE.
    May 26, 2017 at 11:19 AM
    2

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