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Bold Roster Predictions as 49ers Training Camp Begins

Levin T. Black
Jul 27, 2019 at 8:00 AM


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As the San Francisco 49ers begin the 2019 training camp, it seems a good time to put some bold predictions on record that I think have a strong possibility of happening. Making predictions before training camp happens is generally unwise. Still, I'll put my name, for as little as that is worth, behind these.

1. C.J. Beathard is treated as the No. 2 but does not end up on the 49ers roster


The battle for the backup quarterback position is perhaps the most intriguing of all the position battles this year. In one corner you have Beathard, who is a former third-round pick who was taken because head coach Kyle Shanahan saw the makings of a great QB in his system.

Things haven't gone well for Beathard during his first two seasons. Given ample opportunity to prove himself due to injury, Beathard has compiled a 1-9 record as a starter completing under 60 percent of his passes, throwing 13 interceptions to just 12 touchdowns and generally shown an inability to get rid of the ball. Too often he can't anticipate what the defense is doing and ends up being late on a throw or missing the window entirely.

In the other corner is an undrafted QB who shined when promoted from the practice squad last season. Nick Mullens completed more than 64 percent of his passes in eight starts last season. Expanding his stats out to a full season, Mullens would have thrown for more than 4,500 yards, easily setting the new single season record for the team. That would go with 26 touchdowns to 20 interceptions. Not bad for a first year.

It would seem Beathard should be clearly No. 3 on the depth chart right now. He won't feel like it. I believe Shanahan is going to play Beathard as the No. 2 when the first preseason game rolls around, talk up the quarterback for the next month and play him a majority of the preseason games.

Shanahan will do all of this in order to showcase Beathard for other teams. Mullens has some arm strength deficiencies but otherwise is the cerebral, trust the system quarterback Shanahan wants. With the depth at running back, wide receiver, defensive line and in the secondary I don't believe the 49ers can keep three QBs on the active roster. Playing Beathard so much in the preseason, when Shanahan can use his scheme to destroy weak defenses, could help recoup some of Beathard's trade value.

Yes, I think the 49ers look to trade Beathard before the season. I'm not sure they can find a taker. Other teams don't tend to give up draft capital or see potential in other teams' former mid-round picks who have struggled on the field.

If things go the way I predict, everything I just wrote will look foolish for the next month. The 49ers faithful will be frustrated and incessantly talking about how Mullens isn't getting a chance and Shanahan is favoring Beathard because he doesn't want to admit a mistake. It won't be reality as Shanahan will have chosen Mullens already and is only playing Beathard to help find him a spot on another team.

2. A healthy Jimmie Ward will be a backup


Ah, yes, a Ward prediction. The oft-injured defensive back was controversially brought back in free agency as the team remains enamored with the former first-round pick. Consider this quote after the announcement of Ward's resigning from General Manager John Lynch.

"But there's also a very, very talented football player, who I would tell you, grew into a really special leader," Lynch said.

Shanahan had similar praise for Ward, who is currently hurt but is expected to be healthy before the regular season begins. Reading the tea leaves, the 49ers brass believes Ward is a great player and the best option at free safety when healthy.

I think that will change prior to the season. Adrian Colbert will push him out while shining in camp and preseason games.

Colbert is the ideal fit at free safety for the revamped defense. The 49ers have gone to the Wide-9 alignment up front in order to get the most out of Dee Ford and Nick Bosa. The 49ers are going to be aggressive at getting to the quarterback. This will have an effect on the secondary as well.

The safeties' athleticism will become more important. They will need to close quickly and arrive in time to breakup the rushed throws by opposing quarterbacks. Colbert excels at this. He has freakish speed. It's the trait that got him drafted in the 7th round. Here's a blurb about his 40-yard dash at the University of Miami pro day.


Colbert flashed great potential as a rookie two seasons ago. He struggled last year prior to losing his starting position. Still just 25-years-old, Colbert has again been running with the first string with Ward out. Entering his third season, Colbert will show better play recognition and make some great plays in the preseason. This will propel him to remaining the starter when Ward returns for yet another injury.

3. Jordan Matthews makes the team as sixth WR


I'm under no delusion that Matthews will return to his promising form from his early years with the Philadelphia Eagles. In all honesty, this is the prediction I feel the least confident in as it's impossible to know how well he will pick up the 49ers' complicated playbook. Still there are a few reasons I'm going out on a limb here.

First, Matthews brings a big target unlike the 49ers' other options. At 6 foot 3 inches tall, Matthews is capable of playing outside and in the slot. The diversity combined with the size others lack makes him an ideal backup.

Second, while Matthews has just 45 receptions combined the past two seasons, he has done well when targeted. He's caught 70.3 percent of targets in that time. That percentage is good for 10th in the league among receivers with at least 40 catches combined.

Furthermore, Matthews averaged 15 yards per reception last year as he returned to the vertical passing offense the Eagles utilize. This made his yards per target an impressive 10.17 yards. Only five receivers with at least 20 catches in 2018 averaged more.

Matthews is just 27-years-old. Given an opportunity to play this preseason he will dominate the backup defensive backs he faces and will prove to be too valuable to let go. Richie James and Kendrick Bourne won't make the 53-man roster.

I said earlier this week that the 49ers could go with only five receivers while stashing James on the practice squad. While this could still be possible if Bourne and Matthews don't shine, looking over the whole roster I believe there is room for six. Time will tell.
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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