San Francisco 49ers: 16 Undrafted Rookie Free Agents' Chances of Making Team
That excess presently sits at 37.
These training camp hopefuls are all vying for one of the few remaining openings on the team. One particular group among this contingent is the pool of rookie free agents who were not selected in this year’s draft.
As of this moment, the 49ers have 16, including three from Stanford, where Jim Harbaugh coached from 2007 to 2010.
The coaching staff must evaluate these players throughout the offseason and ultimately sign them to the active roster, practice squad or release them.
Let’s now put on our coaching hats and evaluate each undrafted rookie free agent’s chances of making the team.
Note: I will group them by position and/or positional area (i.e. corners with safeties).
Cameron Bell, FB, Northern Illinois
According to the first official training camp roster released on August 6, Cameron Bell currently holds the No. 3 spot on the fullback depth chart (per CSN Bay Area). Bruce Miller and Anthony Dixon sit ahead of him.
The 49ers have a crowded backfield when simply taking into account just the guaranteed starters and backups.
Miller, the rookie standout in 2011 who converted from defensive end, may develop this year into one of the better fullbacks in the NFL.
Dixon’s roster spot as a backup is already tenuous considering the 49ers can use their various tight ends in an H-back role or even defensive linemen at fullback.
Harbaugh prefers two-way players.
Also compounding the situation is the presence of Rock Cartwright. San Francisco signed the former Raider to replace Blake Costanzo as the special teams ace. He might also see action as a running/fullback, thereby making him another two-way player.
So the odds of Bell making the active roster are slim to none. I’d be hard pressed to believe he’d even find a spot on the practice squad, unfortunately.
Jewel Hampton, RB, Southern Illinois
For Hampton, the likelihood of him making the active roster is just as low.
The Southern Illinois product has found himself on the non-football injury list and will not play during any portion of training camp.
He’s an exciting prospect with good speed and size, but wouldn’t have cracked the top four at the position even if he had been healthy.
Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter are the heir apparent No. 1 and No. 2 running backs. Free-agent pickup Brandon Jacobs and second-round draftee LaMichael James will share playing time based on specific personnel groupings and situational downs.
However, Hampton seems a good candidate for the practice squad. Realizing the injury-prone nature of the running back position, having one in reserve—especially of Hampton’s talents—is a sound roster move.
Look for him to sport the Red and Gold this year, just not on the sidelines every Sunday.
Garrett Celek, TE, Michigan State
In Harbaugh’s tight end-friendly offense that utilizes heavy run packages, Celek would seem to have a fighter’s chance to make the team.
However, that backup opening after incumbents Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker has recently been filled. Defensive lineman Demarcus Dobbs has excelled in his role at tight end in training camp thus far (per CSN Bay Area).
Matt Maiocco reports that he’s in line to win the No. 3 role (via Twitter).
Again, it’s all about players who can man multiple positions. That means blocking specialist Nate Byham (a roster spot favorite in 2011 before tearing his ACL), who sits ahead of Celek on the depth chart, probably won’t make the active roster either.
Garrett may have to watch his brother Brent from home this year to satisfy his NFL fix.
Chris Owusu, WR, Stanford
This is the sexy name everyone mentions when 49er rookie free agents are the topic of discussion.
The local prospect is an absolute burner, having been clocked as low as 4.28 in the 40 and officially at 4.36, the fastest time at the scouting combine.
The problem, though, is Owusu’s serious history of head trauma. He suffered three concussions within a span of just over a year.
(To be sure, Harbaugh and the 49ers medical staff gave him full medical clearance.)
Concussion history or not, Owusu has not always displayed consistent hands or the requisite skills of an all-around receiver. He still needs time to develop.
He won’t make the 46-man roster due to the solidified group of veteran wide receivers. To wit, first-round pick A.J. Jenkins will not likely see game-time action until later in the season.
On the other hand, Owusu will sit atop the charts on the practice squad if another NFL club (however unlikely) does not pick him up before he gets there.
Nathan Palmer, WR, Northern Illinois
The 5’11", 195-pound Palmer has proven himself as one of the best rookies throughout training camp. Despite lacking all-world speed, he catches balls well in traffic and has a knack for beating starting 49ers defensive backs.
Matt Maiocco considers him, like Owusu, a strong candidate for the practice squad if he manages to escape the collective gaze of opposing NFL franchises.
Brian Tyms, WR, Florida A&M
Tyms, meanwhile, has had his fair share of good, and not so good moments in camp.
On the positive side, he’s been the offensive star of the practice field at times.
He’s also been the poster boy of a young kid with noteworthy character issues.
One way or another, his position behind Owusu, Palmer and the starting wideouts will deem him expendable once the season begins.
Al Netter, G, Northwestern
There’s really not a whole lot to report on the Al Netter front.
He’s more of an offseason roster-filler than a player with regular season potential.
He worked out at right tackle early in camp, but now occupies the fourth slot on the depth chart behind Alex Boone, Leonard David and Mike Person.
This rookie is not likely to make the team in any capacity.
Tony Jerod-Eddie, DT, Texas A&M
Matthew Musifilo, DE, Stanford
Patrick Butrym, DT, Wisconsin
The first two men are fighting for a reserve role on either side of the defensive line.
Jerod-Eddie sits behind Ray McDonald and Demarcus Dobbs at left defensive tackle. Musifilo, meanwhile, occupies the No. 3 spot behind left tackles Justin Smith and Will Tukuafu.
Both rookies have an arduous task in front them to make the active roster.
As mentioned previously, Harbaugh can’t get enough of multi-skilled personnel. Dobbs will likely get the nod as backup tight end, while Tukuafu offers value at fullback.
That said, one of the two should find himself earning a modest paycheck on the practice squad.
(And I’m sure it’s still bigger than any of ours.)
So where does that leave Patrick Butrym?
Well, depth chart no-man’s land, or as my grandparents would say, “Up a creek without a paddle.”
Kourtnei Brown, LB, Clemson
Brown, the late-blooming backer out of Clemson, is an intriguing player on the 49ers roster.
He’s a poor man’s Aldon Smith (believe me, that’s a compliment) with readily apparent physical capabilities. He could be an extremely valuable edge rusher, especially with fifth-round linebacker Darius Fleming gone for the year with a torn ACL.
He’ll be in direct battle with seventh-round selection Cam Johnson. His skill set could easily trump Johnson’s draft status when it comes down to the final cuts.
Joe Holland, LB, Purdue
As with DT Patrick Butrym, this inside linebacker will have a nearly insurmountable task of ascending the depth chart.
Both Larry Grant and Tavares Gooden rank higher than him on the depth chart, not to mention already being established special teams players.
And Holland—as an inside linebacker on a stacked 49ers club—plays at a position that ranks lower in importance for the practice squad than, say, OL, DL, WR, S and TE.
Anthony Mosley, CB Kentucky
Deante’ Purvis, CB, UNLV
With the recent release of CB Curtis Holcomb, a practice squad opening may have presented itself for either Mosley or Purvis.
But I’d recommend that they not hold their breath on the possibility.
While it is true that the NFL has transformed into a purely passing league (don’t mention this to Harbaugh)—meaning a roster full of capable DBs is essential—the 49ers are pretty well set at the position.
Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver comfortably own the top three slots. After that, Tramaine Brock and Perrish Cox are locks for defensive packages featuring extra personnel (and to give breathers to the starters).
On that note, Vic Fangio often prefers using safeties that are fluid in coverage in nickel or dime situations. That means an extra safety would likely earn a roster spot over another backup corner.
However, setting prior silliness aside, there is an outside chance that either Mosley or Purvis make the 53-man roster if the coaches deem them valuable.
They just need to avoid showings like this to ensure that happens.
Michael Thomas, S, Stanford
A man with a Jim Harbaugh connection is another intriguing prospect currently working out in San Francisco.
Thomas has shown ball-hawking abilities in practice and is well respected by coaches.
Our friend Matt Maiocco at CSNBayArea also notes his versatility in coverage schemes with extra defensive backs.
That would seem to align with my assertion that 49ers coaches prefer additional safeties to corners in that role.
One obstacle in front of Thomas is his lowly position on the depth chart. It seems to indicate that Darcel McBath and Cory Nelms are higher up on the food chain.
Regardless, there’s ample time left in the offseason for Thomas to make the team. I’d expect that to happen.
Giorgio Tavecchio, K, Cal
SLEEPER ALERT, SLEEPER ALERT!
Well, not so much.
Backup kickers realize they have no business on an NFL team.
There’s always that Garbage Picking Field Goal Kicking Philadelphia Phenomenon hanging out in plain clothes, waiting for a phone call.
Wait, didn’t David Akers play for Philadelphia?
Add me on Twitter @jlevitt16
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