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A way-too-early 49ers 53-man roster projection

I wrote a lot, so let’s just jump right in.

Quarterbacks (3)

Brian Hoyer — Smart and mostly steady, 49ers fans are going to be surprised at Hoyer’s efficiency. There will be a few misjudged interceptions now and then, but Hoyer has a strong grasp of Kyle Shanahan’s offense and a better arm than people think. If the team goes 6-10 (or better), Hoyer will be a main reason why.

Matt Barkley — I wasn’t at every minicamp practice, but from everything I’ve gathered, Barkley has done little to impress the 49ers on the field. He’ll make the roster mostly because the coaching staff won’t want rookie C.J. Beathard on the field early in his career in case of a Hoyer injury. If Barkley opens training camp poorly, don’t be shocked if the 49ers bring in a Charlie Whitehurst or Shaun Hill — although the backlash from overlooking Colin Kaepernick will then become a storyline.

C.J. Beathard — Two things Shanahan can’t teach — size and arm strength — were apparent from Beathard during the offseason program. Hoyer told me the rookie has been a sponge in the meeting rooms, asking the right types of questions. If Hoyer somehow falls flat on his face and the 49ers are 3-7 headed into a late November bye week, there will be strong calls to get Beathard onto the football field.

Running Backs (5)

Carlos Hyde — The clock will start ticking Week 1 for Hyde. If he isn’t performing, Shanahan won’t be scared to give others a try. This is a contract year for Hyde, who has yet to hit 1,000 yards rushing his first three seasons in the league.

Kyle Juszczyk — Defensive coordinators are going to lose sleep with how Shanahan will use Juszczyk. The offensive weapon could garner 50 receptions and his presence underneath makes the field a much larger space to defend.

Joe Williams — Williams is a speedster with home run playmaking ability. There will be packages created for him early in the season, and if he’s shining in those opportunities, Shanahan will stop pulling him off the field. It shows you Shanahan’s offensive clout that Lynch had to put the Utah product back on the draft board because of his head coach’s insistence.

Kapri Bibbs — No position is harder to judge in practice than running back, but Bibbs clearly has a skill set. If he proves he can tackle well on special teams, there is a home for him on this roster.

Matt Breida — I reported in May the coaching staff was gushing about him privately. If the undrafted rookie impresses in the preseason, sneaking him on the practice squad is going to be impossible. He’ll gobble up a spot on the 53-man roster.

Wide Receivers (6)

Pierre Garcon — His last season with Shanahan produced 113 receptions and 1,346 yards. The 30-year-old has not lost a step, meaning similar statistics are certainly within reach if Hoyer and others play their part.

Marquise Goodwin — The 24 games missed over the last three seasons are concerning, but Goodwin’s elusiveness as a route runner is apparent. His sassy attitude will help the 49ers if they are winning, or it could become a problem if he isn’t getting the ball and the team starts to lose. Best case scenario, Goodwin is a 55 receptions, 850 yards, five touchdown guy.

Jeremy Kerley — Joe Staley went to bat for Kerley when the new regime asked him for his opinion on certain players. Kerley was arguably the most consistent player on offense in 2016 under Chip Kelly.

Trent Taylor — Shanahan’s draft crush will be given a bite-sized role to start his first season. The first thing you notice about Taylor is his footwork. He’ll need some seasoning, but he eventually will be helping the 49ers move the chains.

Victor Boulden Jr. — A surprise addition over Aldrick Robinson, my prediction is Boulden will force the 49ers’ hand. An electric home run hitter who can also return punts, Boulden’s potential is worth taking a chance on.

B.J. Johnson III — The undrafted rookie the 49ers signed once they cut K.D. Cannon, Johnson keeps up his strong impression in August. At 6-foot-1, the Georgia Southern alum also becomes the tallest receiver on the roster.

Tight Ends (4)

George Kittle — Don’t be surprised if you see a rookie fifth-rounder carrying the torch at tight end in San Francisco. Kittle is slippery in space, an experienced blocker in Iowa’s run-heavy scheme and was the pleasant surprise offensively during OTAs. With so many other veterans starting at other positions, it would behoove Shanahan and Lynch to develop a younger player at tight end in Year 1.

Garrett Celek — Could he become the latest tight end to resurrect his career under Shanahan? He hopes so, but it’s also not a lock he makes the roster.

Logan Paulsen — One of the tight ends needs to be a blocking specialist in Shanahan’s play-action scheme. Enter the durable and reliable Paulsen. He’s also an underrated red zone target and could haul in a couple of touchdowns this season.

Cole Hikutini — Affectionately nicknamed “Dirty Tini,” the undrafted rookie from Louisville has become a coaching staff favorite. Playing time will be unsure, but he’s either headed for the 53-man roster or the practice squad. There is upside.

Offensive linemen (8)

Joe Staley — In an interview before summer break, the 11-year veteran told reporters Shanahan is a certified genius. Staley’s athleticism will be on full display in the zone-blocking scheme.

Zane Beadles — Trent Baalke signed him to a three-year, $9.75 million deal last offseason and the move was clearly worth it. His spot isn’t set in stone at left guard, but it would be surprising if he was unseated during training camp.

Jeremy Zuttah — Traded for a sixth-round pick, Zuttah could end up as a productive starter. Another example of the solid work John Lynch was able to accomplish in his first offseason as GM.

Brandon Fusco — This under-the-radar signing might end up starting at right guard. He’s been a reliable starter with the Vikings the last five seasons.

Trent Brown — In the past, Shanahan has preferred more agile right tackles as opposed to the 355-pound stonewaller Brown is. The competition between he and former Seahawk Garry Gilliam will be real, but I think Brown ultimately prevails as the winner.

Joshua Garnett — If there’s one trade that might happen during training camp, it could involve Garnett. It was disappointing that the 2016 first-round pick wasn’t a penciled in starter during OTAs. Pro Football Focus ranked Garnett 70th out of 72 guards last season. His transition to the NFL hasn’t been the smoothest. As long as he’s not a disaster in training camp, expect Shanahan to stay patient with the 23-year-old.

Daniel Kilgore — He’s strictly a center, so keeping Kilgore as a backup honestly isn’t the wisest strategy. Normally, backup offensive linemen are expected to play multiple positions. Don’t be surprised if Kilgore plays some guard during training camp.

John Theus — He’ll have to battle it out among several other young and undrafted players.

Defensive linemen (8)

Arik Armstead — Question marks arose about his development at the LEO position when the team signed Elvis Dumervil. Armstead has 4.5 sacks in 24 career games.

Solomon Thomas — The No. 3 overall pick will make his debut during training camp. Finishing classes at Stanford prevented the 273-pounder from participating in the offseason program.

DeForest Buckner — One of the only good parts of the 2016 season was Buckner’s development. He’s shown he can be a relentless pass rusher, but needs a ton of work in defending the run. Should his rookie teammate Thomas start playing well immediately, Buckner could be the benefactor.

Elvis Dumervil — How much will he play? Dumervil is without question one of the most accomplished pass rushers of the last decade. Will the 49ers try and win games with him early in the season, even if it limits the development of Armstead?

Earl Mitchell — Your starting nose tackle. Another veteran John Lynch chose to lean on during Year 1.

Ronald Blair — He flashed potential as a rotational player his rookie season with 3 sacks and deserves more reps during his sophomore campaign. The question becomes who does defensive coordinator Robert Saleh take off the field?

Aaron Lynch — He’s skating on thin ice, but this scheme seems to suit him well. As long as he’s not overweight coming to training camp, Lynch has the potential you want in a backup player.

Quinton Dial — He can play nose tackle and the 49ers will need a backup behind Mitchell.

Linebackers (6)

NaVorro Bowman — The anchor of the new scheme will be flying around the middle of the field.

Reuben Foster — There is no player who should excite 49ers fans more than the No. 31 overall pick. With his shoulder hopefully healthy, Foster should be on the field Day 1 at training camp. Expect his flexibility as a defender in coverage to be utilized right from the get-go.

Ahmad Brooks — While other veterans on the roster are competing for their jobs, Brooks is locked in at SAM linebacker. His duties will be both chasing the quarterbacks and covering running backs in the flat. The 33-year-old survived four separate regimes. That says a ton about the player he is.

Malcolm Smith — The odd man out with Foster’s arrival, Smith actually had a really strong spring. The NFL is a nickel-dime league now, though, which will make it tough for him to see the field in sub-packages. Either way, he’s good depth to have.

Brock Coyle — The 49ers need a special teamer to lead the charge on return coverage. Coyle should win that spot.

Ray-Ray Armstrong —  A 2016 injury and an influx of new players leave his role up in the air, but Armstrong has the coverage skills to see the field as a backup.

Cornerbacks (6)

Rashard Robinson — No player is being given more responsibility than Robinson. A year after easing into the lineup as a fourth-round pick, Robinson now will have to check the top receiver each and every week. It’s a sink-or-swim task the 49ers are betting he can win.

Keith Reaser — Another surprise during the spring, Reaser seemed to have the upper hand as the second starting cornerback. He’s been mostly uninspiring his first few seasons with the 49ers. Expecting him to become a stopper at corner is a tad naive.

Ahkello Witherspoon — His 6-foot-3 frame stands tall on the practice field. The 49ers passed on a ton of talented players in the third round for Witherspoon’s services. If Reaser is struggling in September, he’ll hear his name called early and often.

Dontae Johnson — He’ll duke it out with Reaser for the No. 2 spot, and there’s a chance he could win.

K’Waun Williams — The nickel back specialist is a favorite of defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley. He got a raw deal in Cleveland and should be given the chance in September to make plays — which includes blitzing.

Will Redmond — You can never have too many cornerbacks in this league. Redmond never got a fair crack after dealing with ACL recovery all last season. He’s mostly only a nickel back, though, so keeping him and Williams isn’t exactly the smartest idea.

Safeties (4)

Jimmie Ward — How quickly can Ward become the Earl Thomas of this new scheme? His successes — and failures — will dictate how good this defense is. Expecting him to be flawless as the center fielder, again, is being naive.

Eric Reid — A position change to box safety has the 25-year-old fired up again. He’ll be counted on a ton against the run this season. Expect some highlights of he and Foster clobbering running backs together.

Chanceller James — The undrafted rookie was all over the field in minicamp, ending the final practice with a pick-six on Matt Barkley. A Boise State alum with good size (6-foot-2, 208 pounds), James is talented enough to become a starter down the road. Yep, I’m that excited about him.

Jaquiski Tartt — What is his role on this defense? He’s been a jack-of-all-trades in seasons past, but it’s unclear how much this staff can find Tartt’s potential with limited reps.

Specialists (3)

Robbie Gould — He’s jumped right into the locker room as a lovable figure. Gould has an 85.9 career field goal percentage.

Bradley Pinnion — He probably won’t be as busy this season. Expect less three-and-outs with Shanahan calling plays.

Kyle Nelson — I’m going to train my son to become a long-snapper.

Notable Projected Cuts

Eli Harold, Vance McDonald, Tank Carradine, Tim Hightower, Blake Bell


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