Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

5 position battles to watch for during 49ers OTAs

Rohan Chakravarthi
May 24, 2023 at 4:40 PM--

The San Francisco 49ers entered the offseason with several questions after key figures, such as Jimmie Ward, Mike McGlinchey, Samson Ebukam, and Charles Omenihu, departed in free agency, creating the possibility for position battles in organized team activities(OTAs) and training camp.

While several of the starting spots are solidified, there are still a few position battles to watch, as well as depth questions that could allow younger players to compete and take 53-man roster spots at the end of the offseason.

Let's break down some of those battles to watch and how they could play out for the 49ers, outside of the obvious competition at quarterback.

1. Starting DE opposite Nick Bosa

The San Francisco 49ers have their biggest question alongside the defensive line, where three spots are solidified, but there's a hole left by the departure of defensive ends Samsoon Ebukam and Charles Omenihu.

Currently, 2022 second-round pick Drake Jackson is slotted in to start at the edge position, with a lack of significant competition at the position.

Jackson looked raw in 2022, flashing early with three sacks before waning towards the end of the season, leading him to be a non-factor in the rotation, primarily due to his run-defending abilities.

However, the USC product has bulked up this offseason, reportedly reaching around 265 pounds and looking the part, leading to a vote of confidence that was met by the organization when San Francisco didn't select an edge rusher with an early pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Jackson has the tools to be a successful edge rusher in the NFL, but questions remain about his three-down ability, which will be tested this offseason.

Should the defensive end not meet expectations, the 49ers could dive into the free-agent market with their current cap space and sign one of the marquee edge rushers still available to solidify that position for the upcoming season.

Jackson should receive every opportunity to prove himself this offseason, and could very well earn the starting job alongside Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, and Javon Hargrave, but the edge position is an area where the 49ers need production from after the losses of two key players this offseason, as well as a down year in regards to sack production after the elite numbers of the 2019 and 2021 defenses.

2. Backup tight end

The 49ers have an excellent tight end in George Kittle, who has been at the top of his position since a breakout 2018 season that involved 88 catches for 1,377 yards.

However, the backup tight end position remains a question, as it has for the past five seasons, where the 49ers have tried to find a complement to Kittle in both the blocking and the passing game.

The 49ers drafted two tight ends this season, third-rounder Cameron Latu and seventh-round Brayden Willis, to compete with the incumbent candidates, Charlie Woerner and Ross Dwelley.

Woerner likely begins the offseason with a grasp on the backup role, given his familiarity with the offense, as well as his blocking abilities.

While the 49ers seem to desire a multi-dimensional option that can catch passes and block at a good level, the blocking element seems to be the primary prerequisite to earning reps, similar to the receiver position.

Personally, I believe Willis's profile could provide more upside for the 49ers compared to his rookie counterpart, as he possesses better athleticism and is a redzone threat, alongside his blocking abilities.

But, the biggest question with both rookies is how quickly they can further their learning curve and acclimate to the NFL environment, which could ultimately dictate their roles in Year 1, creating a competitive environment this offseason for the job behind George Kittle in an offense that utilizes two tight-end sets in several packages.

3. Backup right tackle

At the moment, it appears that Colton McKivitz is the heavy favorite to start at right tackle for the 49ers in Mike McGlinchey's absence, both given his experience at the position and the lack of true competition behind him.

Currently, the 49ers have three right tackles on their roster that are competing: McKivitz, Matt Pryor, and Jaylon Moore.

Pryor, a free agent signing who started games for the Indianapolis Colts in 2022, was uninspiring in his play last season, raising questions on how capable of a backup he can be in the case of injury to a starter.

Moore has significantly struggled at tackle since his arrival in the NFL, and I've projected him as a guard since the 2021 NFL Draft, but the 49ers have placed him on the outside due to their depth.

To begin OTAs, Pryor has been the second-team right tackle and Moore has been on the third-team, but the 49ers could also look to see how their tackle position develops before adding talent near the beginning of the season or even midseason if their current options don't pan out.

The 49ers lost versatile offensive lineman Daniel Brunskill in free agency, while McKivitz had served as the swing tackle in recent years. The competition for his backup looks shaky at the moment.

4. CB depth

For the past few seasons, it seems that the 49ers have dealt with cornerback injuries in one way or another.

San Francisco lost top cornerback Jason Verrett during Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season to a torn Achilles while Emmanuel Moseley dealt with multiple injuries of his own, leading the team to trot out veterans Josh Norman and Dre Kirkpatrick at times during the year.

Then, in 2022, San Francisco lost Moseley to a torn ACL in Week 5, causing a change in the rotation as Deommodore Lenoir became a full-time outside cornerback and Jimmie Ward stepped into the nickel spot.

This season, the 49ers seem to have their top corners solidified, with Lenoir and Charvarius Ward on the outside and free-agent signing Isaiah Oliver stepping into the nickelback role, but depth could be a topic of concern, as the team has Samuel Womack, a fifth-rounder in 2022, and Darrel Luter Jr., a fifth-round rookie, as their top options behind the starters.

In past years, the 49ers had some more flexibility, as the versatile Jimmie Ward provided an additional option at cornerback, even though he was primarily a safety, but that safety blanket is no longer there, with the veteran moving on to the Houston Texans this offseason.

With the injury history that Charvarius Ward has faced, both missing games during the year, but also in-game issues that have cost him a few plays, the 49ers could be forced to play some of their depth.

Can either of the younger candidates, or even former third-rounder Ambry Thomas, stand out this offseason to provide more confidence at the position?

5. LB3

The 49ers have held one of the strongest linebacker groups over the past few seasons, headlined by All-Pro Fred Warner, who has been complemented by Dre Greenlaw and Azeez Al-Shaair, who have provided strong play at their positions.

However, the 49ers lost Al-Shaair to free agency this offseason, leaving a hole at that third linebacker spot that could create a competition amongst their backups.

San Francisco still has Oren Burks and Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles from a season ago, who both contributed on special teams and when injuries occurred with the group, but there are rising young candidates, such as Marcelino McCrary-Ball, who flashed during training camp last season.

It will be tough to replace the consistency that Al-Shaair brought during his tenure with the 49ers, but the team has options, which should set up for an intriguing camp battle this offseason.
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.
Nobody's perfect. Did you find a mistake in this article?
Report it.


  • No Comments

Facebook Comments

More San Francisco 49ers News

Podcast: Questions that need to be answered during 49ers OTAs

By Rohan Chakravarthi
May 24

Rohan Chakravarthi and Suneil discuss the quarterback competition and position battles to watch during the San Francisco 49ers' OTAs. The audio for the show is embedded above, while the video is available below. ?feature=share You can listen to "The Rohan Chakravarthi Show" from our

How Christian McCaffrey is setting a standard during 49ers OTAs

By David Bonilla
May 24

It didn't take long for Christian McCaffrey to become a leader in the locker room after the Carolina Panthers traded the running back to the San Francisco 49ers. McCaffrey joined the team, owning a reputation as a player who is among the hardest working at maintaining his craft. The 49ers kicked off organized team activities (OTAs) this week, and McCaffrey is among the many players in attendance. While that is unlikely to surprise anyone, it's important to remember that OTAs are voluntary. One big-name player not present is the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Nick Bosa. Of course, no one is concerned, given the talented pass rusher's past production. While McCaffrey doesn't have to be in Santa Clara, his presence is another example of how quickly he's grown

Podcast: 49ers OTAs Day 1 recap

By Rohan Chakravarthi
May 24

Rohan Chakravarthi and Jessie Naylor break down Day 1 of the San Francisco 49ers OTAs that was available to media. The audio for the show is embedded above, while the video is available below. You can listen to "The Rohan Chakravarthi Show" from our dedicated podcast page, on

5 burning questions as 49ers begin OTAs

By Marc Adams
May 23

The San Francisco 49ers began OTAs (organized team activities) on Monday. They are required to open at least one session per week to the media. This week, that session is on Tuesday. So we'll likely hear things from reporters after the practice, and even begin seeing some video throughout the session. Coach Kyle Shanahan is expected to address the media, as well. I can tell by the look in your eyes that you are undoubtedly ready to get some answers to questions surrounding the 49ers OTAs. Keep in mind that most of these questions won't be answered in non-padded OTA sessions, but it's ok to start asking them anyway. So here are five burning questions that we look forward to being answered: 1. Will Trey Lance's transformed mechanics be


Trending News

Share 49ersWebzone