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11 new 49ers players to get excited about heading into training camp

Jul 11, 2017 at 4:17 PM1

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There are a lot of new faces on the San Francisco 49ers roster. No team has had as much turnover as the 49ers this offseason. With a few exceptions like wide receiver Jeremy Kerley and defensive tackle Chris Jones, the 49ers allowed most of their unrestricted free agents to walk.

New head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch are trying to mold a new identity for the franchise. Shanahan is installing his high-powered offensive system while defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is trying to put together a defense that shows "extreme physicality." They want players who fit their scheme rather than adapting that system to fit players from a former regime.

It's difficult to predict how each of the new faces on the roster will contribute to the new-look 49ers but there are a number of new players to get excited about. Below are just some of those names, listed in alphabetical order.

Elvis Dumervil

Veteran pass rusher Elvis Dumervil was signed in June and figures to be an important part of the 49ers defense on passing downs. He started just three games in 2016 and appeared in just eight due to a foot injury. However, Dumervil was still able to get to the quarterback three times last season.

Dumervil's Pro Football Focus grade has been on a steady decline since peaking in 2013. 2016 was the lowest grade of his 11-year career. The 49ers are hoping that good health and a change of scenery can help Dumervil contribute to the defense.

Former teammate and new 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk is excited about what Dumervil can bring to the team.

"Elvis Dumervil is a great player," Juszczyk said. "Elvis is a guy that I've seen take over games when I was in Baltimore and he's a sack specialist. That's what he does. He gets after the quarterback. I think he's a great addition to this team and I'm excited to have him here. I think he's going to bring something special here."

"Elvis is tough," the fullback continued. "He has a good combination of, what I would say, finesse and power. The guy, he's fast and he's lower to the ground so he can be very powerful but, at the same time, he has very good moves with his hands. He's a master of his craft."

Reuben Foster

Rookie linebacker Reuben Foster has the potential to be one of the all-time greats at his position. He dropped in the draft because of some questions about his health and character.

As far as his recovery from shoulder surgery is concerned, the 49ers don't seem worried. Both the team and Foster feel that he will be ready to go when training camp kicks off on July 27th. Foster had been limited during the 49ers' offseason program so training camp will be the team's first real look at what he can do while going up against other players.

As for the character concerns surrounding the linebacker who has already been compared to former 49ers great Patrick Willis, Lynch loves what Foster has exhibited.

"When I was first asked that in the press conference in San Fran," Lynch told the Talk of Fame Network in May, "I said, 'Well, I would tell you that Reuben's character is what drew me to him.' He's a guy who can ignite a room with his excitement, with his passion.

"The kid hasn't been in trouble much. He's been around some bad things that have happened. He did have the situation at the combine. We talked with Reuben about that, being sent home, and he was apologetic for that — both to the gentlemen at the combine, publicly, and to us."

The "situation" that Lynch referred to was Foster being dismissed from the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine after engaging in a heated argument with a hospital worker. The rookie also revealed that his urine sample obtained in Indianapolis was reported as a dilute, which many NFL teams treat as a failed drug test. When asked specifically about the sample, Foster explained that he was sick the week prior to the combine and he drank an excessive amount of water.

"He hasn't been in trouble at Alabama," Lynch continued. "He's a tremendous player sideline to sideline, and he will hit anything that moves … really, my kind of guy and, I think, a real special player."

Foster has been involved in a competition with NaVorro Bowman and Malcolm Smith for two inside linebacker spots.

Pierre Garçon

Wide receiver Pierre Garçon earned the highest Pro Football Focus grade of his career in 2016 thanks to a stellar campaign by quarterback Kirk Cousins. In 2016, he eclipsed 1,000 yards for the second time in his nine-year career. The last 49ers receiver to reach 1,000 receiving yards was Anquan Boldin in 2014.

Garçon's drop rate in 2016 was tied with Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders for the second-lowest among NFL receivers. How good was it? Of the 80 catchable passes thrown Garçon's way, the sure-handed wideout dropped just one, according to Pro Football Focus.

Garçon will be a reliable target for quarterback Brian Hoyer and is the most reliable receiver the 49ers have had since Boldin.

Cole Hikutini

Tight end Cole Hikutini is one of two undrafted free agents who fans are really excited about. During his last two years of collegiate play, he caught a touchdown for every 8.8 targets. Hikutini had a 75-percent career catch percentage, which is even higher than the tight end who the 49ers actually selected in the 2017 NFL Draft – George Kittle (69-percent).

The tight end competition is shaping up to be one of the more intriguing of the offseason. There are six players competing for three or four spots on the roster. Three are returning veterans in Garrett Celek, Vance McDonald, and Blake Bell. The remaining three are new to the roster. They are Kittle, Hikutini, and free agent acquisition Logan Paulsen. It is entirely possible that the three new faces replace the three old ones when the dust settles.

Hikutini recently spoke with 49ers Webzone about the tight end competition and explained that while everyone understands that it is a battle, the group has never swayed from helping one another and cheering each other on.

In 2016, Hikutini had 50 receptions for 668 yards and eight touchdowns with Louisville.

Lorenzo Jerome

Safety Lorenzo Jerome is the other undrafted free agent who is creating some buzz. He has already been compared to Ronde Barber by the 49ers general manager. Jerome comes from St. Francis University, a small Catholic school in Loretto, Pennsylvania. In four seasons with the Red Flash, Jerome had 18 interceptions, including six in 2016.

"I think he led our team during the OTAs and all that in interceptions," Lynch told KNBR in June. "And so a guy who's done it in college, albeit at a smaller level, did it in the All-Star games and then he comes out here and it's still happening. I like his chances."

While Jerome continued his production in All-Star games, what really hurt the safety's draft stock were his numbers at the Combine. He acknowledged this while speaking with 49ers Webzone.

"The Combine definitely hurt me," Jerome told 49ers Webzone. "It hurt me deep down inside because I ran a 4.7 (40-yard dash). I'm really not a straight-laser guy that can burst out and just run straight. I think football's more about angles and having a feeling where the ball's at. So the Combine did hurt me, but at the end of the day you gotta play football."

D.J. Jones

Another rookie who has joined us on our podcast, defensive lineman D.J. Jones, has the potential to start at some point for the 49ers and possibly as early as this season. Our own Al Sacco and Zain Naqvi have called him a steal in the draft. Jones knows that he has to put the work in if he wants to be among the best.

"I'm already my biggest critic," Jones told 49ers Webzone. "I've got to be the best so I've got to do things to make myself the best. I just want to work as hard as I can. If starting is in my future, let that be. It depends on how hard I work for it."

In 2015, Jones played in every game for Mississippi, starting three and making 40 tackles, 5.5 for loss, and four sacks. He started all 12 games during his senior year. Over the past two years, Jones accumulated 70 tackles, 8.5 for a loss, and six sacks in 25 games.

"I do believe I'm one of the faster nose tackles," Jones continued. "My feet – I think I use them more than my power – my finesse, and my lower center of gravity. I like to get up on the pads and drive an offensive lineman back. And my hands, my hand speed. Just my instincts to get to the quarterback. That's what I enjoy."

Kyle Juszczyk

The 49ers did not employ a fullback last season so Kyle Juszczyk is an instant upgrade. However, he is one of the best fullbacks in the league so even if the 49ers did have a fullback on their 2016 roster, Juszczyk likely would have been an upgrade anyway.

Juszczyk, who has felt under-utilized throughout his career, is excited about the possibilities in Shanahan's offense. Lynch has already labeled him not as a fullback, but as an offensive weapon.

"That's everything that I wanted to hear these last couple of years because I feel like that label as a fullback almost holds you back a little bit," Juszczyk said. "It pins you into a certain type of player and I feel like, at some degree, people kind of look down on it because the whole, 'Fullbacks are extinct' (and) 'How many teams even use a fullback these days?' But that's not necessarily the only position I've played on offense so to kind of get rid of that label really means a lot and kind of plays into my game."

The 49ers have been criticized for the amount of money that they gave Juszczyk but it wasn't even the best offer he received. He turned down more money for the opportunity to play for Shanahan.

Juszczyk played 115 more snaps than any other fullback in the league last year, including the Christmas Day game below.

George Kittle

Being a draft pick, George Kittle might be the tight end most likely to make the 49ers' 53-man roster. He has certainly impressed during the team's offseason program. Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area has not ruled out the possibility of the first-year tight end earning the starting job.

"Right now, if you were to ask me who the favorite is to win the starting tight end job, I would just say, 'Keep an eye on George Kittle – the fifth-round draft pick from Iowa who really didn't catch a whole lot of passes in Iowa,'" Maiocco said.

In 2016, Kittle started 11 games and caught 22 passes for 314 yards and four touchdowns despite being limited by a foot injury during the second half of the season. Those numbers might not jump out at you, but many believe that they were more a product of the system he came from and that he might have been under-utilized at Iowa.

Maiocco continued, "Brian Hoyer was kind of joking he knows the offensive coordinator with Iowa pretty well and he's going to call him up or text him and tell him how badly he used Kittle as a pass-catching threat. He just didn't use his skills."

Trent Taylor

Wide receiver Trent Taylor is another player who has impressed during the team's offseason program. At 5-foot-8, Taylor has a smaller catch radius but that has not been apparent on the practice field. Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee has reported that Taylor has been very good at creating separation from defenders.

The fifth-round draft pick was one of college football's best receivers last year. As a senior, he had 136 catches for 1,803 yards and 12 touchdowns through 14 games for Louisiana Tech. His reception yards led the nation and his reception total ranked second to East Carolina wide receiver Zay Jones' record-breaking 158 catches.

Taylor was largely responsible for the Bulldogs' success and three bowl game victories from 2014 through 2016. He could challenge veteran Kerley for the slot receiver position this season.

"I thought he was as good at the slot role as anyone that we were looking at in the draft," Shanahan said after drafting Taylor. "He really owned that spot. He was very quick. His body's always under him. He can make cuts.

"I thought what impressed me the most about him, besides the separation ability, is that when he did get the ball in his hands, he ran angry and pissed off. He got up the field. He's not scared to get hit. He's a very competitive, violent runner and those are the guys to me who keep you on the field and move the chains."

Solomon Thomas

Being the third overall pick, expectations are high for defensive lineman Solomon Thomas. He has missed the team's offseason program due to an NFL rule that prevented him from joining his teammates until Stanford's school year was complete.

While Thomas has not been on the 49ers practice field since a rookie minicamp in May, he has been working hard during the offseason to prepare himself for training camp and the upcoming season. Thomas has enlisted the help of some of the NFL's best defensive players – both past and present.

Thomas has worked with retired edge rusher DeMarcus Ware, Hall of Fame defensive lineman Warren Sapp, and recently attended Von Miller's Pass Rush Summit at Stanford.

While there have been some questions surrounding how the 49ers will use Thomas, the defensive lineman feels that he is a very versatile player and can be utilized anywhere along the defensive front.

"I came in (to Stanford) thinking I was going to be an outside linebacker," Thomas told KNBR after being drafted. "Played defensive end so I trained all my high school offseason to be an outside linebacker. Came in as a defensive end, played defensive end. Sophomore year, played nose guard and defensive tackle. Went back out to defensive end and kind of like a wide-9, wide-5 position sometimes as well. I've played up and down the line, whether it was a full season or a game. I've played everywhere on that line."

Joe Williams

"If we don't get him, I'll be sick," Shanahan said of Joe Williams the night before Day Three of the draft. "I will be contemplating Joe Williams all night."

While Shanahan was infatuated with the running back, Lynch had removed him from the 49ers' draft board. It took campaigning from Shanahan and a phone call to Williams to change Lynch's mind. Williams had quit the Utah football team prior to the 2016 season. It was a decision that did not sit well with the 49ers general manager. Williams explained that his reasoning was due to the long-present grief that the running back carried due to the death of his sister at a younger age. The conversation was enough to get the 49ers to draft Williams in the fourth round.

Williams, not Carlos Hyde, could be the 49ers' running back of the future. Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area explained during a recent interview on the Taylor Price Talk podcast.

"If they know the kind of running back that they want and they're standing on a table for a guy – unless the kid mentally isn't able to function at the NFL level and comprehend the playbook – unless that occurs, this guy is going to be a player," Maiocco said. "He's going to be a significant player. And so the question becomes, 'Is it this year he unseats Carlos Hyde or is it next year?' And if Carlos Hyde really steps up to the plate and shows a lot, would the 49ers make a run at him for a contract extension? I don't know.

"It seems like they have the guy that they believe is going to be the guy whenever the 49ers are in a position to turn the corner. Joe Williams is the guy that, right now, the long-term planning, is going to be the guy who's going to be the featured back or at least a major part of this offense in the future."

Following his return to Utah in 2016, Williams finished the year in the top 20 nationally with 1,420 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns through nine games. During his second game back, Williams tallied 332 yards and four touchdowns against UCLA. He also had 222 yards and a touchdown in a Foster Farms Bowl victory over Indiana.


  • Which of the above 49ers players are you most excited to see on the football field?
  • Reuben Foster
  • Joe Williams
  • Solomon Thomas
  • Trent Taylor
  • Kyle Juszczyk
  • George Kittle
  • Elvis Dumervil
  • Pierre Garcon
  • Lorenzo Jerome
  • Cole Hikutini
  • D.J. Jones
  • 1,054 votes
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

  • tony palmieri
    Kyle utilised a great RB tandem in Atlanta. Carlos does not need to be replaced, he needs to be supplemented. Carlos and Joe is the new tandem I'm sure Kyle is thrilled about.
    Jul 12, 2017 at 8:04 AM

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