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Offensive Roster Speculation: Running Back, Quarterback, Linemen

Bret Rumbeck
Aug 29, 2017 at 5:34 AM


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As a team constructs an offseason roster, fans and experts spend months gnawing on who may be one of the lucky 53 men to make the final cut. There are obvious shoo-ins for a spot, say a first-round draft pick or a star veteran. But each team may have 10-15 spots up for open competition, and use the four August games as the objective evaluator. Following Sunday night's preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings, we now have a clear picture of a few offensive players who will make the 2017 roster.

Running Back


Following the Great Roster Purge of 2017, the 49ers invested and rebuilt at nearly every position, including the backfield. Management hired two veterans: fullback Kyle Juszczyk and running back Tim Hightower. On April 29, 2017, the 49ers acquired running back Kapri Bibbs in a trade with Denver, drafting Joe Williams in the fourth round, and signing undrafted free agent Matt Breida. Months ago, I thought a rotation of Carlos Hyde, Hightower, and Breida or Williams, along with Juszczyk, would be the formula head coach Kyle Shanahan was looking for in the running game.

However, Hightower has hardly touched the ball this preseason, despite being listed as second on the depth chart. He played two snaps against the Vikings on special teams, leaving many wondering what his role is for this season.

It appears that both Hightower and Bibbs will shoulder the 49ers' ground game this week against the Los Angeles Chargers, but it is unclear if either back has a future with the team.

Both Breida and Williams have shown an ability to run inside and outside, though both need more time to develop as premiere NFL running backs. Brieda and Willams have different running styles than Hyde, which may prove to keep defenses on their toes and may help keep Hyde healthy as the season evolves.

Raheem Mostert was a late addition to the 49ers' practice squad last year and was on the active roster for the final game of the 2016 season. This summer, Mostert put together a quality preseason, with some fast, long runs. He also has one of the highlights of the preseason, turning a short screen pass into an 87-yard touchdown reception against the Vikings. Mostert can also play special teams, rounding out his skills and giving him a greater edge over Hightower and Bibbs. Additionally, he's worked hard this preseason to earn a roster position, even if he's mostly working for special teams or coming in as a fourth-string running back.

Expect the 49ers' running back depth chart to have Hyde with the first team, Breida with the second team, Williams with the third, and Mostert as the fourth-string back and returning kickoffs and punts.

Quarterback


The Saturn V rocket that rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard was riding fell back into Earth's gravitational pull on Sunday evening. Beathard looked frazzled in the pocket, causing a breakdown in his fundamentals. His accuracy was off, with a few throws sailing over the heads of his receivers. However, Beathard settled down and led a 13-play drive that ate up nearly eight minutes of clock.

It's possible the Vikings left in some of their first- and second-string players to begin the half, meaning Beathard faced greater talent than he did during the first two preseason games. If so, his struggles make sense, and he can use Sunday's film as his first NFL learning experience.

Veteran quarterback Matt Barkley seems to be a forgotten part of Shanahan's vision for the future of the 49ers. He finally entered the game with just over six minutes left in the fourth quarter, attempted two short passes, and handed the ball off to Joe Williams four times. These are not the plays or the situation to accurately judge a quarterback competition. I've said it before: the NFL is simply too fast for Barkley. I'm guessing Shanahan and general manager John Lynch also see too many flaws in his game.

Unless Barkley sets the world on fire this Thursday, I would not be surprised to see him on the cut list, with Hoyer and Beathard as the team's quarterbacks and camp arm Nick Mullens on the practice squad.

Offensive Line


With tackle Joe Staley suffering a minor knee injury, backup John Theus had 50 snaps to show the 49ers he can be a serviceable tackle. Following Sunday night's game, Pro Football Focus gave Theus an overall grade of 74.5. He allowed two hurries, but his run blocking was solid.

With the 49ers' interior line positions still shaky, the team may have found another diamond in the undrafted free agent mine. Rookie Erik Magnuson, from the University of Michigan, is playing very well as an interior lineman. He has played center and right guard over three games with Pro Football Focus issuing him an 82.7 grade against the Chiefs. With second-year guard Joshua Garnett expected to miss the first few weeks of the regular season, the 49ers will keep Zane Beadles and Josh Fusco at guard, and adjust those positions once Garnett is cleared to play. I've advocated for the 49ers to find hidden talent and develop players rather than relying on an uncertain waiver wire or free agent market. Magnuson is an ideal player for the 49ers to build into a valuable interior lineman.

This year, teams have one day to trim the roster, as opposed to cutting the roster to 75 players and then crafting the final 53-man roster. That means this Thursday's game against the Los Angeles Chargers is going to be make-or-break for some players on the bubble. Plus, we'll get a competitive final preseason game, even if it gets a little sloppy.

Who else may be a surprise to make this year's offensive roster for the 49ers?
  • Bret Rumbeck
  • Written by:
    Bret Rumbeck has been writing about the 49ers since 2017 for 49ers Webzone and 49ers Hub. He is a Turlock, CA native, and has worked for two members of the US House of Representatives and one US Senator. When not breaking down game film, Bret spends his time seeking out various forms of heavy metal. Feel free to follow him or direct inquiries to @brumbeck.
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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