One of the incredible, and simultaneously maddening features of the preseason is feeling like you have a handle on where the 49ers’ roster stands.
At the start of camp, there always seems like a clear hierarchy, but by its conclusion, it’s all a muddled mess. Special teams and injury questions throw a wrench into all the notions we all had of who is and who is not making this team.
Here’s a breakdown of what the 49ers roster could look like after August 31. Keep in mind, the practice squad has been expanded to 16 players and two practice squad players can be promoted each game.
In (2): Trey Lance, Nate Sudfeld
Out (2): Brock Purdy, Jimmy Garoppolo
I know there’s been a “Brock Purdy SZN/Brock Purdy HYPE TRAIN” thing happening online and hey, I get it. It’s fun to root for the kid. He definitely made a few impressive throws this preseason. He’s also made a few vomit-worthy throws.
That’s why I expect he’ll be on the practice squad. He doesn’t have elite arm talent and his roughly 6-and-a-half-foot stature doesn’t help much, either. That’s not to say he won’t get scooped up, but he’s in a friendly system that turned Nick Mullens into an NFL backup, so if a compelling offer doesn’t arrive, he’ll know he’s in a good situation.
Nate Sudfeld was brought in to be the backup. Purdy hasn’t lit the world on fire in practices, so it’s hard to see that original hierarchy changing.
Oh, and Jimmy Garoppolo should be released, finally, when these last cuts arrive. You never fully know with the 49ers, but it’s exceedingly likely that’s the outcome.
In (5): Kyle Juszczyk, Elijah Mitchell, Jeff Wilson Jr., Trey Sermon, Ty Davis-Price
Out (2): JaMycal Hasty, Jordan Mason
This is tough to figure out given that Hasty had the third-down role with the team last year and Kyle Shanahan admitted last week he’s the team’s best pass catcher. Couple that with the fact that Trey Sermon’s been mostly lukewarm and you have a little bit of a conundrum.
But the team invested a third-round pick on Sermon after drafting Trey Lance, discernibly because they saw the offense changing a bit with Lance at the helm. And Lance is at the helm.
Sermon also had a couple nice runs in the final preseason game and told KNBR he’s more comfortable in the pistol, given his college experience there. The 49ers will use some pistol with Lance, and have been repping Sermon on special teams.
The gut says it will be Sermon making the team and both Hasty and Jordan Mason missing out. There’s a chance both could get scooped up by another team, or neither.
Hasty, by the way, has had issues in that pass catcher role given that he’s just 5-foot-8. He’s had drops, too, independent of those height concerns.
Mason, as impressive as he has been, should still make it through to practice squad.
There’s never certainty with cuts, and the 49ers have a reputation for developing undrafted free agent running backs, but there just aren’t enough spots available to save one for him. The only way that changes is if Elijah Mitchell goes on injured reserve to start the season and someone scoops Hasty.
In (3): George Kittle, Charlie Woerner, Ross Dwelley
Out (2): Tyler Kroft, Troy Fumagalli
This is pretty straightforward. It seemed like when the team cut Tanner Hudson, it was an indication they’d stick with Ross Dwelley. Both were pass-catching tight ends, and you can only really afford one of them. Hudson, like Kaden Smith a few years ago, caught on with the Giants.
You’ve got Kittle, Dwelley and Charlie Woerner yet again. One of Kroft or Fumagalli should stick around on the practice squad.
In (5): Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Jauan Jennings, Danny Gray, Ray-Ray McCloud
Out (6): Malik Turner, Willie Snead IV, KeeSean Johnson, Tay Martin, Marcus Johnson
The only question here is whether the 49ers take six. Malik Turner would be the sixth. It would be astounding to see Willie Snead make it after that ignominious touchdown drop to conclude the preseason.
It doesn’t seem worthwhile to invest that sixth spot on Turner unless the 49ers have intel he won’t make it to the practice squad.
He had a good OTAs and a solid training camp, and will absolutely get a chance if he sticks around on practice squad. The reps he’s taken on special teams have also been notable, and it’s that area that could net him a roster spot. Gut still says he’s a practice squad player.
In (9): Trent Williams, Aaron Banks, Jake Brendel, Spencer Burford, Mike McGlinchey, Daniel Brunskill, Colton McKivitz, Jaylon Moore, Jason Poe
Out (6): Justin Skule, Jordan Mills, Keaton Sutherland, Dohnovan West, Nick Zakelj, Alfredo Gutierrez
This is a lot of offensive linemen. Probably too many. You could keep a sixth wide receiver, a fifth running back, or an extra defensive back or linebacker if you cut one.
But it’s not an inspiring starting group and with Mike McGlinchey’s status uncertain, you need bodies here. Aaron Banks hasn’t exactly been inspiring at guard, and the interior in general has been shaky.
Jason Poe, though, has impressed, and has probably earned himself a roster spot. If you have to use Daniel Brunskill elsewhere, there’d be no other interior depth available, and Brunskill’s health is still a question mark.
Keeping Jaylon Moore might seem like overkill, but if the 49ers have to go with Colton McKivitz as their Week 1 starter, they probably need to keep Moore around, too, especially if Brunskill isn’t fully healthy.
Overall, it’s a very concerning situation and if you’re SF, it would make sense to ensure Poe stays around and give yourself a couple weeks to get a bit more clarity on what that starting group is going to look like.
In (11): Nick Bosa, Javon Kinlaw, Arik Armstead, Samson Ebukam, Drake Jackson, Charles Omenihu, Kevin Givens, Kemoko Turay, Kerry Hyder Jr., Jordan Willis, Hassan Ridgeway
Out (3): Alex Barrett, Kevin Atkins, Akeem Spence
Reserve/NFI (1): Kalia Davis
This is sort of the opposite of the offensive line, but with a similar result. It’s a lot of bodies, but they’re pretty much all starting caliber.
It’s a spot where a back-end trade wouldn’t be out of the question. Kerry Hyder Jr. has the ability to slot inside when needed and the 49ers love to put edge rushers inside to give guards a rough time. Charles Omenihu’s done some of that, too.
If you had to pick one guy to cut, maybe that would be Jordan Willis, but he’s done little to warrant being cut and is valuable on special teams, as he showed against the Packers in Green Bay last playoffs.
You can’t really go wrong retaining good players on your defensive line. The 49ers have a glut of talent and should keep it that way.
In (5): Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw, Azeez Al-Shaair, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, Oren Burks
Out (3): Curtis Robinson, Segun Olubi, Marcelino McCrary-Ball
There’s just not much room for anyone not in that first group to make the team. The starting three linebackers are as good as it gets, and both Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles and Oren Burks provide value on special teams.
Expect some of the three getting cut to join the practice squad.
In (5): Charvarius Ward, Emmanuel Moseley, Ambry Thomas, Deommodore Lenoir, Samuel Womack III
Out (4): Tariq Castro-Fields, Qwuantrezz Knight, Ka’Dar Hollman, Ken Crawley
Reserve/PUP (1): Jason Verrett
This is as streamlined a group of corners as it gets, but the four getting cut haven’t set the world alight. The team likes Qwuantrezz Knight as a nickel option, but given that you need to keep a spot open for Jimmie Ward, it seems like he’ll miss out.
At the very least, Tariq Castro-Fields and Knight should join the practice squad.
In (5): Jimmie Ward (injured reserve), Talanoa Hufanga, Tarvarius Moore, George Odum, Dontae Johnson
Out (1): Tashaun Gipson Sr., Tayler Hawkins
The 49ers have to keep Jimmie Ward on the final 53-man roster before putting him on injured reserve for the first four weeks of the season, but they still need four safeties.
Dontae Johnson is sort of a flex in this situation, in that he can play corner, but has been working largely at safety. He makes it a bit more palatable to keep just five corners and backup if Tarvarius Moore (the likely starter in Jimmie Ward’s stead) doesn’t work out.
Tashaun Gipson Sr. could make it, but he’s had less than a week to catch on, and the 49ers may decide to go with what they’re familiar with.
Special teams (3): Taybor Pepper, Mitch Wishnowsky, Robbie Gould
Special teams players are football players, too.