It’s been a while since the San Francisco 49ers had a deep and talented enough roster to warrant cutting players who belong in the NFL.
John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan have done an admirable job restocking what was one of the worst rosters in the league just two years ago, and have some tough decisions ahead in terms of who stays and who goes. It’s a good problem to have for the team, and makes it imperative that the guys who are fighting for a spot stand out. Lucky for the Niners, there quite a few unheralded names who’ve done just that. Here’s a look at five “on the bubble” players who deserve to make the final 53:
WR Richie James
Considering he’s been the team’s primary kick returner this preseason, there’s a good chance James makes the team due to his special teams contributions, but what he’s done as a receiver can’t be overlooked.
James has carried his strong practice performance onto the field, leading the team in both receptions (11) and yards (111). He’s looked fast and shown big play ability that included a 33-yard reception.
With as many as eight wide receivers worthy of making the 49ers, the competition will no doubt go down to the wire, but James has more than made his case to stick around for at least one more season.
RB Jeff Wilson, Jr.
With all the talk surrounding Matt Breida, Tevin Coleman, Jerick McKinnon and Raheem Mostert, it’s easy for forget how well Wilson played when he was forced into action as a rookie last season.
In six total games, the undrafted free agent running back carried the ball 66 times for 266 yards (4.0 yards per carry) and added 12 catches. In his first career start, he paced San Francisco with 90 yards on the ground in a Week 13 victory over the Denver Broncos.
Wilson’s strong play has continued in the early going of the exhibition slate, as he leads all 49ers with three touchdowns. His powerful running style could go a long way in helping a team that only had seven rushing scores a year ago.
DE Damontre Moore
You can never have enough pass rushers and Moore has looked the part so far. He recorded two sacks in Week 3 against the Kansas City Chiefs and, according to Pro Football Focus, had the highest grade of any 49ers defender at 89.4. Moore also posted the highest grade in Week 2 with a mark of 89.5
Moore’s been around, and he’s shown an ability to get to the quarterback in his previous stops. As a role player with the New York Giants, he reached 5.5 sacks in 2014 and has 10 sacks in 54 career games. That overall total may not jump out at you, but, for comparison, it’s one more than Arik Armstead has in 46 career games.
LB Azeez Al-Shaair
It seemed likely that Al-Shaair’s name would have been called at some point on draft weekend if not for an ACL injury that cut short his senior season at Florida Atlantic. Despite the fact that he’s working his way back, Al-Shaair has looked like a playmaker for the 49ers.
His 12 total tackles are second on the team to only Dre Greenlaw, and he’s also had a fumble recovery and pass break up. While the odds of being more than a backup are slim, the 6-foot-2, 228 pound tackling machine could serve the team well on special teams.
DL Kevin Givens
Games are won and lost in the trenches, and if you’re going to have depth, the line of scrimmage is a good place to start. While the offensive line certainly has its holes, San Francisco’s defensive front is just loaded. Givens joins Moore on this list as another player from that group who’s done enough to warrant sticking around when final cuts are made.
Givens was undrafted out of Penn State, but has turned heads with the way he’s been able to penetrate and disrupt plays in the backfield. The stats don’t show how much of a headache he’s been for opposing offenses when he’s been on the field. Givens seems like the type of player worth developing, but might get scooped up by another team if the 49ers try and sneak him on the practice squad.