On-Air Now
On-Air Now
Listen Live from the Casino Matrix Studio

49ers training camp primer: Comprehensive position breakdown



© Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan enter season No. 2 with a much rosier outlook than season No. 1. One year ago, they inherited a 2-14 team, implemented new schemes, and spent the greater part of the 2017 season working with scraps. They have almost completely overhauled the 49ers roster since their arrival, keeping just 13 players from the 2016 team.

And despite all these factors, there is more optimism surrounding this team than most in years’ past.

Credit that to a 5-0 finish in 2018 and follow it with the Jimmy Garoppolo record-breaking signing and a productive free agency period. Out of the 10 teams with five primetime games in 2018, the 49ers are the only coming off a losing campaign.

Let’s break down the current roster and highlight the position battles you need to know ahead of training camp, which starts Thursday.


Jimmy Garoppolo

C.J. Beathard

Nick Mullens

Jack Heneghan

Unless Garoppolo suffers a serious injury or forgets how to play football during the preseason, he will be the Week 1 starter.

The 5-0 finish to 2017 and $137.5 million contract he signed this offseason proved that much. It’s amazing to think one transaction can flip the course of an ailing franchise, but that’s what happened when the 49ers traded a second-round pick for Garoppolo last November in what may be one of Lynch’s defining moves as a general manager. What ensued had never been done before: the 49ers became the first team to start a season 0-9 and finish 6-10.

Garoppolo’s sparkly 7-0 starting record is bound to add a loss at some point, but 49ers fans have plenty of reasons to think more wins than losses are to come. The 49ers improved from 321.7 yards per game from Weeks 1-12 (21st-best) to 410 yards (third-best) from Weeks 13-17. Their 17 points per game (28th-best) improved to 28.8 (fifth-best). Their 221.8 pass yards per game (17th-best) improved to 297 (third-best). And their total quarterback rating improved from 32.4 (28th-best) to 80 (first).

Beathard is penciled in as Garoppolo’s backup. After Shanahan traded up to draft Beathard in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft, he appeared in seven games during his rookie season in 2017, producing a 54.9 percent completion percentage, 1,430 yards, four touchdowns, and six interceptions. The production was subpar, but Beathard’s teammates consistently praised him for his toughness and resolution amid a difficult situation.

That leaves Mullens and Heneghan battling for the third-string spot. Mullens was the practice squad quarterback last year as a rookie. Heneghan, the son of Lal Heneghan, who formerly served as the 49ers Executive Vice President for five years, impressed at a local pro day back in May. Standing at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, the soon-to-be rookie averaged 2,431 passing yards and 14 touchdowns on 61.1 percent completion percentage during his final two seasons at Dartmouth.


Jerick McKinnon

Matt Breida

Joe Williams

Raheem Mostert

Jeremy McNichols

Jeff Wilson

Kyle Juszczyk (Fullback)

Malcolm Johnson (Fullback)

Georgia Southern isn’t a prominent hub for running back prospects, but the 49ers’ top two players at the position hail from the same Sun Belt Conference school.

McKinnon was the marquee addition to the group this offseason. He signed a four-year contract with $11.7 million guaranteed, giving him the featured role he always wanted. Throughout his four career seasons in Minnesota, he was delegated to third-down duties, but he starred in his role. Pro Football Focus gave the Georgia Southern product its eighth-highest grade last year amongst all running backs. He also scored as PFF’s ninth-best pass protector out of all running backs. He caught 51 of 68 targets in 2017. And he’s durable — McKinnon has missed only one game in the past three seasons.

He’s a much better fit in Shanahan’s dynamic offense than predecessor Carlos Hyde.

Joining McKinnon is Breida, the undrafted rookie who beat out Williams for the No. 2 spot behind Hyde in 2017. Breida, a shifty, change-of-pace runner, produced 645 all-purpose yards with three touchdowns in 2017. He sits comfortably in the backup role entering camp.

Williams vs. Mostert is the battle to watch. What is intriguing is the 49ers would retain them for different reasons.

Mostert was the third-string running back last year as Williams spent his rookie season on injured reserve with a foot injury. Mostert is one of San Francisco’s top special teamers. Williams is a swift, talented runner who captivated Shanahan so much he said he would “be sick” if the 49ers did not draft him in 2017, according to Sports Illustrated.

Juszczyk, the NFL’s highest-paid fullback, is coming off a Pro Bowl season in his first year with the 49ers. Johnson will likely compete for a practice squad spot.


Pierre Garçon

Marquise Goodwin

Trent Taylor

Aldrick Robinson

Kendrick Bourne

Dante Pettis

Victor Bolden

Max McCaffrey

Aaron Burbridge

Richie James Jr.

DeAndre Carter

Steven Dunbar Jr.

Shanahan and Lynch are confident in this group. Despite the big free agent names — Sammy Watkins, Jarvis Landry, and Allen Robinson, to name a few — the 49ers stayed put with their current receiving corps.

Garcon, who turns 32 in August, will return after missing the second half of the 2017 season with a neck injury. Goodwin, who inked a three-year extension this offseason, is coming off a season in which he achieved career-highs in yards (962) and catches (56) in 2017. Taylor was a third-down machine in 2018 and will look to build upon a solid rookie campaign.

The battles for the backup slots will be competitive. Pettis is the 2018 second-round pick who set an NCAA record in career punt return touchdowns (nine) and was named a first-team All-Pac 12 receiver last year. Bourne had a terrific mini-camp. He’s likely slotted as Garcon’s backup. Robinson, who has played for Shanahan in Washington and Atlanta, provides similar value as Pettis with his speed and versatility. James is the seventh-round pick who posted prolific numbers during his two seasons with Middle Tennessee State. Bolden was suspended four games earlier this offseason for PEDs. He was San Francisco’s leading kick returner last year.


George Kittle

Garrett Celek

Cole Hikutini

Cole Wick

Kyle Nelson

Ross Dwelley

The 49ers are set here.

Kittle was part of an impressive rookie class last season. He and Celek produced a combined 851 yards and six touchdowns, their best play coinciding with Garoppolo’s emergence. Kittle capped the season with a four-catch, 100-yard day in a 34-13 win over the Los Angeles Rams. Celek posted 60-plus yard-games in three of his final seven appearances.


Joe Staley

Mike McGlinchey

Weston Richburg

Jonathan Cooper

Laken Tomlinson

Mike Person

Garry Gilliam

Erik Magnuson

Joshua Garnett

Zane Beadles

Darrell Williams

Pace Murphy

Andrew Lauderdale

The interior offensive line was one of the team’s biggest weaknesses during its 6-10 campaign. Lynch addressed that in free agency.

Richburg, a former New York Giant, signed a five-year contract worth up to $47.5 million, and the 49ers shipped his predecessor, Daniel Kilgore, to Miami. Richburg missed 12 games of the 2017 season due to a concussion. His athleticism is an important asset at center.

Staley, a six-time Pro Bowler and the longest tenured 49ers player, and McGlinchey are solidified as the team’s starting tackles. Tomlinson is looking like the frontrunner at left guard.

That leaves an open competition — and really, the only one outside of punter— at the right guard position. Former starting right guard Brandon Fusco signed with the Atlanta Falcons in free agency. The 49ers signed Cooper, who started 13 games for the Dallas Cowboys last season, and Person earlier this offseason. Garnett will compete with the two of them for the starting right guard spot.


DeForest Buckner

Solomon Thomas

Jeremiah Attaochu

Earl Mitchell (NT)

Cassius Marsh

Arik Armstead

Ronald Blair

D.J. Jones

Sheldon Day

Blaine Woodson

Niles Scott

Kentavius Street

Jullian Taylor

Buckner headlines this group as one of the most promising defensive tackles in the league. Thomas will look to build upon an up-and-down rookie campaign. The 49ers coaching staff plans to play him at the LEO, or the weak-side edge rusher, on base downs. The plan is for Armstead to play big end on those downs.

This unit has lacked an explosive, game-changing edge rusher in recent years. The 49ers produced only 30 sacks, the fifth-fewest in the league, in 2017. They parted ways with leading sacker Elvis Dumervil this offseason.

The 49ers did not address the pass rush issue in the draft. Instead, they added Attaochu to a one-year deal to help fill Dumervil’s void. Attaochu, who has 10 career sacks in four seasons, will get a chance to contribute after being stuck behind Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa with the Los Angeles Chargers in recent years. Marsh was also re-signed.


Reuben Foster

Malcolm Smith

Fred Warner

Brock Coyle

Korey Toomer

Eli Harold

Pita Taumoepenu

Dekoda Watson

Mark Nzeocha

Elijah Lee

The linebacking corps is one of the Niners’ deepest position groups.

Foster endured a hellacious offseason regarding a domestic violence case before returning to the team in late May. He will sit out the first two games of the 2018 season due to violating the league’s policies on personal conduct and substance abuse. That’s a massive win for the 49ers and their prized linebacker.

Smith sat out the 2017 season, his first with the 49ers, after suffering a torn pectoral during the preseason. The Super Bowl XVIII MVP is projected as the starting MIKE linebacker alongside Foster.

Coyle was re-signed to a three-year extension. He started 10 games last year before his season ended due to a torn labrum. Toomer, who started eight games last season for the Chargers, was signed to a one-year deal.

The 49ers used their first third-round pick on Warner, the BYU product who was one of the top athletes at the position in the draft. He has already impressed the coaching staff with his grasp of the defense. The 49ers see him as a MIKE linebacker, but the two spots are relatively interchangeable, and Warner will compete for immediate playing time during Foster’s suspension.


Richard Sherman

Ahkello Witherspoon

K’Waun Williams

Jimmie Ward

Greg Mabin

C.J. Goodwin

Emmanuel Moseley

Tarvarus McFadden

D.J. Reed

Tarvarius Moore

Sherman was San Francisco’s splashiest free agent signing this offseason. He said he feels 100 percent from the ruptured Achilles he suffered last November. The three-time first-team All-Pro provides leadership to a young, talented unit whose starters are seemingly solidified, barring an injury.

Witherspoon returns as a promising second-year player who will start opposite Sherman. Williams is projected to start in the nickel slot.

One of the most interesting storylines of camp is monitoring how the 49ers deploy Ward. He is the highest-paid defensive player on the team this year, but he is not projected a starting spot. Ward, who has played safety, cornerback, and nickel throughout his four-year career, is effectively the top backup at every secondary position. The inevitable attrition that secondaries experience makes Ward an important asset.

The 49ers added three rookie cornerbacks in the 2018 NFL Draft, including Moore (Southern Mississippi) in the third round, Reed (Kansas State) in the fifth round, and signed McFadden (Florida State) as an undrafted free agent. The plan is to convert Moore, one of the elite athletes in this year’s draft class, from safety to cornerback. Reed will see time in the nickel slot. McFadden, who stands at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, fits the cornerback prototype in Robert Saleh’s 4-3 scheme.


Jaquiski Tartt

Adrian Colbert

Chanceller James

Tyvis Powell

Don Jones

Antone Exum

Marcell Harris

Corey Griffin

Terrell Williams

The 49ers signed Tartt to a two-year extension this offseason, penciling him in as the team’s starting strong safety entering camp. Colbert is the projected free safety. Last year, he was drafted in the seventh round, impressed in camp, replaced Tartt at free safety when he broke his arm late in the season, and shined during San Francisco’s 6-1 finish.


Robbie Gould (Kicker)

Bradley Pinion (Punter)

Jeff Locke (Punter)

Kyle Nelson (Longsnapper)

The special teams unit added Locke, the former Detroit Lion and Minnesota Viking who signed a one-year deal with the 49ers in March. He will compete with Pinion for the starting job. Locke is left-footed, which could help San Francisco’s special teams unit acclimate to a different ball trajectory.

If Locke were to beat out Pinion, the 49ers would likely have to rely on Gould during kickoffs. Pinion drove a second-best 77 percent of all kickoffs for touchbacks in 2017.

Gould returns as the starting kicker after connecting on 39 of 41 field goals in 2017.