© Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
The 49ers play their fourth and final preseason game Thursday evening against the Los Angeles Chargers. The starters’ preseason action is likely done, deeming the upcoming exhibition as the final tryout for all those fighting for a roster spot. Final cuts will be made by Sept. 1 at 1 p.m.
Here are our current projections for the 49ers’ 53-man roster.
In: Jimmy Garoppolo, C.J. Beathard
Out: Nick Mullens, Jack Heneghan
Kyle Shanahan dispelled any doubts about C.J. Beathard losing his backup job to Nick Mullens after Saturday’s 23-17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Mullens is likely headed to the practice squad for a second straight year.
Running back (5)
In: Jerick McKinnon, Matt Breida, Alfred Morris, Raheem Mostert, Kyle Juszyzck (FB)
Out: Joe Williams, Jeremy McNichols, Jeff Wilson, Malcolm Johnson (FB)
One of the most competitive battles of the preseason featured the No. 3 running back spot behind Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida. Finally, a frontrunner emerged Saturday when veteran Alfred Morris, who signed with the 49ers two weeks ago, rumbled 17 times for 84 yards. It was the first time the running game looked formidable all preseason. It would be very surprising if Morris did not make this squad, considering that performance, and his physical, between-the-tackles style contrasts with that of McKinnon and Breida. Raheem Mostert will be retained because he is the team’s top gunner on special teams.
In: Marquise Goodwin, Pierre Garcon, Trent Taylor, Dante Pettis, Kendrick Bourne, Richie James
Out: Aaron Burbridge, Aldrick Robinson, Steven Dunbar, Victor Bolden, Max McCaffrey
The top-five are seemingly locks. The battle for the No. 6 spot has highlighted Aaron Burbridge and Richie James, two players presenting different values. Burbridge is another excellent gunner, but the 49ers can replace him in that role with rookies Tarvarius Moore and D.J. Reed. James, meanwhile, caught a team-leading eight catches for 112 yards through three preseason games. It’s unlikely James would escape waivers unclaimed, deeming his prospects as a practice squad candidate unlikely. Shanahan loves Aldrick Robinson, but he became expendable when the 49ers drafted Dante Pettis in the second round. Victor Bolden is suspended the first four games of the season for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing substance policies. Rookie Steven Dunbar is a good fit for the practice squad.
Tight end (3)
In: George Kittle, Garrett Celek, Cole Wick
Out: Cole Hikutini, Ross Dwelley, Wes Saxton
George Kittle and Garrett Celek are locks. Cole Hikutini started camp as the frontrunner for the No. 3 spot, but Cole Wick has recently gained ground. On Saturday, Hikutini dropped a touchdown with the first team. Wick later caught a ball on third down to extend a drive. Sometimes, roster decisions for backup roles are traced to those plays.
Offensive line (8)
In: Joe Staley, Laken Tomlinson, Weston Richburg, Mike McGlinchey, Mike Person, Joshua Garnett, Garry Gilliam, Jonathan Cooper
Out: Darrell Williams, JP Flynn, Andrew Lauderdale, Pace Murphy, Coleman Shelton, Najee Toran, Chris Gonzalez
This group has been entrenched since guard Joshua Garnett returned from a knee injury two weeks ago and has played well ever since. Garnett is battling for the starting right guard spot with Mike Person, who has been consistent enough to earn the job in Week 1. Garry Gilliam gives the 49ers depth at tackle behind starters Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey.
Defensive line (10)
In: DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, Solomon Thomas, Earl Mitchell, Jeremiah Attaochu, Cassius Marsh, Sheldon Day, D.J. Jones, Jullian Taylor, Ronald Blair
Out: Niles Scott, Will Sutton, Chris Jones, *Kentavius Street
Sheldon Day and D.J. Jones have played themselves into potentially important roles in 2018. They were two of the bright spots in the second preseason game and cycled in with the starters Saturday. Jones could push nose tackle Earl Mitchell for the starting job. Jullian Taylor is another seventh-round pick who has impressed, particularly in the first preseason game. He provides depth at the big end spot alongside Arik Armstead, who returned from a hamstring injury last week. Ronald Blair gives the 49ers a physical, sturdy option at edge. Fourth-round pick Kentavius Street was placed on the non-injury football list prior to training camp after suffering a torn ACL about three weeks before the 2018 NFL Draft.
In: Malcolm Smith, Fred Warner, Brock Coyle, Mark Nzeocha, Dekoda Watson, Pita Taumoepenu
Out: Reuben Foster, Elijah Lee, Korey Toomer
Reuben Foster will serve a two-game suspension to open the season for violating the league’s personal conduct and substance abuse policies. He will not appear on the initial 53-man roster, but his return preceding Week 3 could jettison one of the rotational linebackers. Trading Eli Harold means greater opportunity for second-year linebacker Mark Nzeocha, who started Saturday’s loss at inside linebacker. The final linebacker spot is likely between Pita Taumoepenu and Elijah Lee, but Taumoepenu gets the nod, giving the 49ers another option at inside linebacker. Lee dropped three potential interceptions this preseason. Dekoda Watson is still listed at inside linebacker despite lining up at LEO since the start of training camp. Korey Toomer’s lack of special teams value excludes him from the final 53.
In: Richard Sherman, Ahkello Witherspoon, Adrian Colbert, Jaquiski Tartt, K’Waun Williams, Jimmie Ward, Tarvarius Moore, Greg Mabin, D.J. Reed, Tyvis Powell
Out: Chanceller James, Marcell Harris, Tarvarus McFadden, Emmanuel Moseley, Antone Exum, Dexter McCoil
The backup strong safety spot behind starter Jaquiski Tartt has been one of the quiet battles of the preseason. That mainly featured Chanceller James and rookie Marcell Harris, but cornerback Tyvis Powell was moved to the strong safety spot for the first time in a game setting Saturday. At 6-foot-2, 211 pounds, Powell fits the profile, and his ability play both safety and cornerback would provide depth while consolidating the roster. Cornerbacks Greg Mabin and Tarvarius Moore have consistently played with the second-team throughout the preseason. Reed has been very good, and he provides value on special teams, at nickel corner, free safety, and even cornerback, where he was a second-team All-American at Kansas State.
In: Robbie Gould, Bradley Pinion, Kyle Nelson
Out: Jeff Locke
There is little reason to believe punter Jeff Locke has gained ground on Bradley Pinion, who enters a contract year, at punter. Robbie Gould, currently the fifth-most accurate kicker in NFL history, is coming off the best season of his career. He led the league with 39 makes and missed just twice. Kyle Nelson is the team’s lone long snapper.