Early Projections for the San Francisco 49ers' Final 53-Man Roster
As the reigning NFC champions, it is not hard to imagine that the majority of the San Francisco 49ers roster is locked in.
In all three phases of the game, the Niners tout distinguished role players—many of which are top-five players at their respective positions. However, on a team like this, it is difficult to predict depth because jobs are constantly on the line.
Now, with the incoming and outgoing players, there is reason to anticipate another personnel changeover to some degree.
There are a lot of new names, as well as returning players, who have not had an opportunity to show what they can do at the next level. This should make for a highly competitive training camp in Santa Clara.
Heading into camp and OTAs, players are going to know that behind the entrenched starters, the competition is wide open in 2013. And if you can secure a slot on the team, therein lies potential for an increased role down the line.
With San Francisco’s updated roster, we project the 49ers’ final 53-man roster for the 2013-14 season.
(1) 1. Colin Kaepernick
(2) 2. Colt McCoy
(3) 3. Scott Tolzien
The starting quarterback situation is no longer complicated in the Bay Area. The 49ers have Colin Kaepernick as the No. 1, and if they have it their way, it will be like that for the next 10 years.
In limited time, Kaepernick demonstrated natural physical ability that is revolutionary from the quarterback position.
While players like Michael Vick and Randall Cunningham paved the way for dual-threat quarterbacks like Kaepernick, the 49ers quarterback has the arm talent that exceeds what the aforementioned players ever brought to the table.
And united with head coach and quarterback guru Jim Harbaugh, Kaepernick has the capacity and environment to become a special player in the league. The 49ers coach will continue to develop him, and by all expectations, No. 7 will be better in his first full season.
The addition of Colt McCoy was a calculated decision on the behalf of the front office, as the Niners brought him in via trade (h/t NFL.com). Acquired from Cleveland, the four-year pro will be the No. 2 behind Kaepernick in 2013.
After a successful career at the University of Texas, McCoy’s career with the Browns sort of fizzled before it began.
The Browns committed to Brandon Weeden—for the time being—and that made McCoy expendable. With only three seasons of playing experience and a 74.8 career passer rating, the former Longhorn is still relatively raw.
This transaction provides McCoy with a great opportunity to recharge his career and learn the nuances of playing pro quarterback.
Behind Kaepernick and McCoy is third-year man Scott Tolzien.
Formerly of the Wisconsin Badgers, the young 6’3” quarterback has maintained his spot with the 49ers since the team plucked him from the Chargers roster following a strong preseason outing.
Tolzien has edged out competition before, besting a player who many believed to be a favorite in former Harbaugh pupil, Josh Johnson. And unlike Johnson and Kaepernick, Tolzien is a more traditional dropback passer; he is going to do his best work from the pocket.
Now facing first-year quarterback B.J. Daniels (South Florida), Tolzien is once again going to have to prove his passing ability is more valuable than the all-encompassing skill set of a more athletic quarterback.
But the staff likes him, and if they keep Tolzien, they don’t have to start developing another backup quarterback from scratch.
(4) 1. Frank Gore
(5) 2. Kendall Hunter
(6) 3. LaMichael James
(7) 4. Anthony Dixon
(8) 5. Marcus Lattimore, PUP
The top of the depth chart at the running back position is fairly set.
The 49ers’ all-time leading rusher, Frank Gore, will spearhead this backfield again in 2013. Gore continues to string together a marvelous NFL career, and with two years currently left on his deal, he will once again be the bell cow this season.
And for the first time, Gore will benefit from a vigorous one-two punch behind him in Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James.
In Harbaugh’s first two NFL drafts, San Francisco brought in these two high-profile backs who carried their teams at the college level. Though, due to injuries and depth, Hunter and James were not active at any point together in 2012.
The 49ers will be ready to unleash this trio on the league this season.
After those three, the roster situation begins to get slightly more complicated at the tailback position. The 49ers will also have Anthony Dixon, Jewel Hampton and Marcus Lattimore in their camp.
After spending a fourth-round pick on a first-round talent, Lattimore is a lock to be retained. However, the same cannot be said for Dixon and Hampton, who face an uphill battle in Santa Clara this year.
The Niners are going to stash Lattimore via the PUP list (physically unable to perform), or they may injure-reserve him. If they choose to place him on the PUP, the South Carolina rookie is eligible for action after six weeks.
This is a more desirable option in case one of the top three runners incurs injury.
Of course, the 49ers might not want Lattimore to play at all this season, which is why they may carry an extra back in Dixon or Hampton. The edge will probably go to Dixon, who fulfills a role on special teams as well.
(9) 1. Bruce Miller
2. Lawrence Okoye
3. Anthony Dixon
The 49ers have a high-caliber player at an overlooked position.
With San Francisco’s ingenuity on the offensive side of the ball, it takes advantage of a versatile Bruce Miller. Entering his third season, Miller is presently entrenched at the starting fullback position.
As a former college defensive end, he also plays an integral role on special teams.
With his wide-ranging skill set and efficiency on the field, Miller is the next 49ers player to watch earn All-Pro recognition in 2013. He has continued to develop and is one of the most reliable players on the team’s roster.
This season, however, the 49ers would like to add some thunder behind Miller.
Anthony Dixon had helped close out games, rotating at fullback in addition to playing running back and gunner. Though his duties could decrease at full back this year with undrafted free agent Lawrence Okoye now on the roster.
The 6’6", 308-pound Olympian is not expected to have any sort of featured role as a rookie, but a rep or two a game at fullback could help with his gradual transition to the NFL.
It will help Okoye adapt to the speed and physicality of the game, while providing him with an opportunity to use his power.
(10) 1. Vernon Davis
(11) 2. Vance McDonald
(12) 3. Garrett Celek
(13) 4. Brian Jennings, LS
For the most part, when it’s within the team’s immediate power, it is preferable to maintain continuity with personnel year-to-year.
The loss of Delanie Walker is a notable one, but the 49ers made sure his loss is the only significant changeover at the position. Of the four listed tight ends from 2012, three will return for San Francisco.
And solving the single void left behind is second-round pick, Vance McDonald of Rice.
As the No. 2 tight end, McDonald has a higher ceiling than Walker ever brought to the game. In the long run, this year will be viewed as the year the Niners upgraded at the tight end position.
With his 6’4”, 267-pound frame, McDonald has the ability to be the impact blocker in the trenches while also allowing this offense to get vertical. As that hybrid type, the pairing of Davis and McDonald will cause headaches for opponents.
Behind those two, Garrett Celek has been steadily developing his game.
The two-year pro from Michigan State should reaffirm his spot on the roster in training camp this season. Of course, he will have to fend off Cam Morrah and multifaceted rookie MarQueis Gray.
(14) 1. Michael Crabtree
(15) 2. Anquan Boldin
(16) 3. Quinton Patton
(17) 4. Kyle Williams
(18) 5. A.J. Jenkins
(19) 6. Mario Manningham, PUP
From top to bottom, the 49ers will field an outstanding receiving corps in 2013.
The Nos. 1 and 2 both started in Super Bowl XLVII, and put together strong campaigns individually. Including the postseason, Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin combined for 192 receptions, 2,691 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Their games are very similar in that they are incredibly strong at the point of the catch. Moreover, their bodies of work have been defined by their playmaking ability once they have possession.
Behind those two, the 49ers will field a versatile corps of slot-type receivers.
While Mario Manningham should be the favored No. 3 leading the younger receivers, he is returning from an ugly knee injury (ACL, PCL). He might not return until later in the season, which could wind up giving San Francisco a midseason boost.
Kyle Williams is also returning from a season-ending ACL tear, but his injury was less severe.
With Colin Kaepernick behind center now, Williams could finally show off his explosiveness. He may evolve into a very reliable option, helping the Niners stretch defenses from sideline to sideline as well as down the field.
He will be in direct competition with two up-and-comers in A.J. Jenkins and Quinton Patton.
Right now, Patton is bigger, stronger and arguably the better prospect entering the league. Draft slot aside, the Louisiana Tech product has a legitimate shot of edging out receivers with seniority over him.
(20) 1. Joe Staley
(21) 1a. Anthony Davis
(22) 2. Luke Marquardt
The 49ers have two premier edge-protectors in Joe Staley (LT) and Anthony Davis (RT).
Both players have played at a Pro Bowl level, protecting Colin Kaepernick and mowing down defenders to create lanes for the running backs. They will anchor this line again in 2013 and beyond.
However, when Alex Boone was promoted to the starting right guard position, it left the 49ers with virtually no depth at tackle.
The training camp battle for the backup tackle position will be largely fought between rookies Luke Marquardt (Azusa-Pacific) and Carter Bykowski (Iowa State). The small school products both bring tremendous upside with their size and in-game tenacity.
According to NFL Draft Scout, the UDFA, Marquardt, was a higher-rated prospect than Bykowski, whom the 49ers spent a seventh-round draft pick on.
Marquardt (6’9”, 315 lbs.) went unclaimed at the draft because of a hairline fracture in his foot that had to be surgically repaired (h/t NFL Draft Scout). The 49ers are going to give him a shot and see if he can live up to the hype of his scouting reports.
If he stays healthy, there is a good chance he edges out Bykowski in camp.
(23) 1. Mike Iupati
(24) 1a. Alex Boone
(25) 2. Daniel Kilgore
(26) 3. Joe Looney
In 2012, Alex Boone asserted himself in training camp, claiming the right guard position that was vacated by Adam Snyder (h/t NFL.com).
All of a sudden, this gave the 49ers an impactful set of guards, as Boone would greatly complement Pro Bowler Mike Iupati. These two ensure the depth of the pocket while also mauling defenders in the run game.
San Francisco got superb results from these two as Iupati and Boone set the tempo from the inside out. In their second season together, the team can expect development and confluence from them.
Now, unlike the tackle position, the 49ers have plenty of prospects along the interior line.
The Niners have continued to develop Daniel Kilgore and Joe Looney, who made the roster as mid-to-late-round investments. Both were brought in during the Harbaugh era, continuing to grow in the team’s in-house farm system.
If and when Jonathan Goodwin (C) and Alex Boone (RG) move on from San Francisco, the team will have Kilgore and Looney ready to compete.
(27) 1. Jonathan Goodwin
2. Daniel Kilgore
3. Joe Looney
Jonathan Goodwin arrived in San Francisco in 2011—perhaps as a stopgap—but broke through as the team’s starting center.
Goodwin, 34, came over after winning a Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints, operating within Sean Payton’s uptempo offense. For a team in transition, his pedigree was a great addition to the nucleus of the 49ers offensive line.
However, 2013 will be his last contracted year with San Francisco (via Spotrac).
Given his age and contract obligations the 49ers have on their plate after this season, Goodwin’s deal will likely not be renewed. In which case, Kilgore and Looney make for popular players to monitor in training camp.
(28) 1. Justin Smith
(29) 1a. Ray McDonald
(30) 2. Tank Carradine
(31) 3. Quinton Dial
(32) 4. Lawrence Okoye
The 49ers will return starters Justin Smith and Ray McDonald in 2013.
These two have been proficient every-down players for San Francisco, deeply contributing to the team’s top-ranked defense. As the total package, they do a great job sealing the edge, keeping the play inside and rushing the passer.
The noteworthy part about getting Smith back this year is his return from injury.
The All-Pro lineman tore his triceps in Week 15 last season, which seriously impeded his ability to be effective. Smith then underwent surgery in the offseason, which will hopefully get one of the league’s most feared defenders back to 100 percent.
Behind the starters, the 49ers get bigger, faster and more dominant.
This is where the scope of San Francisco’s 2013 draft comes into play. In April, the team aggressively facilitated upgrades to its front seven, filling out the roster with starter-level talent.
The most notable is Florida State’s Tank Carradine, who will take on the understudy role behind Smith and McDonald. Once we enter the NFL season, the former Seminole should act as the primary backup at the end position.
And in all likelihood, Carradine will also have a featured role in the nickel.
Moreover, at the cost of Demarcus Dobbs and Will Tukuafu, the 49ers add high-ceiling talent in a pair of rookie prospects. And while Dobbs and Tukuafu have provided stability, there is room for improvement depth-wise.
Alabama’s Quinton Dial and UDFA Lawrence Okoye will step in as defensive end prospects, learning the ropes of the position from experienced vets. This season may see them buried on the depth chart, but they could emerge in the not-too-distant future.
(33) 1. Glenn Dorsey
(34) 2. Ian Williams
The 49ers did not take a look at a run-stopping defensive tackle in the draft, which is indicative of their team philosophy.
The value and need for two-down defensive linemen in San Francisco’s 3-4 is not as high as, say, outside linebacker or end. This gives them a need for more versatile defensive players in the front seven.
You'll notice that during the season, in an attempt to lighten the box, opposing teams have been giving the 49ers looks that demand their nickel package. It is trends like this that devalue a pure run-stuffing lineman in San Francisco.
Fortunately, the 49ers were able to address the position with two under-the-radar transactions.
The 49ers made a splash in the offseason, taking on a storybook player as their first free-agent signing. A former high-first-round pick in 2008, Glenn Dorsey will have an opportunity to spark his pro career in the Bay Area.
San Francisco also re-signed Ian Williams, a three-year veteran from Notre Dame, per Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News. At 6’1”, 305 pounds, Williams will act as the primary backup at the nose guard position.
This should be a coming out year for both Dorsey and Williams.
(35) 1. Aldon Smith
(36) 1a. Ahmad Brooks
(37) 2. Parys Haralson
(38) 3. Corey Lemonier
At yet another position group, the 49ers are strong on the front lines.
In his second year in the NFL, Aldon Smith piled up 19.5 sacks, earning All-Pro recognition from the league. Yet, the reigning NFC Defensive Player of the Year only makes up one-half of San Francisco’s fierce outside linebacker tandem.
He is supported by eight-year pro, Ahmad Brooks, who is more of a well-balanced edge defender.
With uncontested roster spots, these two are entrenched at right and left outside linebacker. However, there will definitely be a shakeup at the position beyond the starters.
Again, the team’s draft focus was on building the front seven from a depth perspective.
With the No. 88 overall pick in 2013, the 49ers selected Auburn defensive end Corey Lemonier. Coming from the Tigers’ four-man front, the Niners are going to ask the rookie to stand up and play 3-4 rush linebacker.
With his pass-rush ability, he is going to wow coaches in Santa Clara and retain that roster spot. This is another player who is going to spell the starters and have a role in the nickel package.
He should be neck-and-neck with veteran linebacker Parys Haralson on the depth chart this season. But it should not surprise anyone if Lemonier is getting on the field more than Haralson midway through the year.
(39) 1. Patrick Willis
(40) 1a. NaVorro Bowman
(41) 2. Dan Skuta
When it comes to starters representing position groups in the NFL, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman are as elite as any.
Both have broken through to the All-Pro level, establishing themselves as the No. 1 and 2 inside linebackers in the league. Given their standing on the team, the 49ers locked up Willis and Bowman with long-term deals (h/t Ron Kroichick of the San Francisco Chronicle).
Pending unforeseen circumstance, the inside linebacker position is otherwise settled in the Bay Area.
However, the 49ers want to provide depth at the position. And ideally, this backup would be an effective role player on Brad Seely’s special teams unit. According to Pro Football Talk, Dan Skuta was a top-tier gunner for Cincinnati a year ago.
In 2012, Skuta racked up a team-best 17 tackles as part of the coverage team.
In an attempt to upgrade the S/T unit, the 49ers elect to retain Dan Skuta as the No. 3 inside backer. He is a capable backup and could emerge as central figure in San Francisco’s punt and kickoff coverage teams.
(42) 1. Carlos Rogers
(43) 1a. Tarell Brown
(44) 2. Chris Culliver
(45) 3. Nnamdi Asomugha
(46) 4. Perrish Cox
This might be the most unpredictable position group entering training camp in Santa Clara.
To save face (See: Carlos Rogers’ contract details), the 49ers will list the nine-year pro and highest-paid defensive back as the No. 1 cornerback on the depth chart. And even though he listed as such a year ago, Rogers spent an awful lot of time in the slot.
In 2012, Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver manned the perimeter, holding down the taller, more athletic receivers. To play to the players’ skill set rather than salary cap figures, this made the most sense for the 49ers schematically.
This season, the tides may shift again with Nnamdi Asomugha on board.
Similar to Culliver, Asomugha (6’2”, 210 lbs.) is a long, well-built defensive back. Midway through the year, the 49ers may discover they put themselves in the most advantageous position by having these two as their boundary corners.
This would then kick Rogers and Brown inside to the nickel and dime when opposing offenses spread it out. However, this is contingent on Asomugha showing up and earning a roster spot.
But if all of these players live up to their potential, the 49ers may be fielding four or five starting-caliber cornerbacks in 2013. This would also allow them to have fresh bodies on the field in their base package.
Though, when it comes to the position, there is a very good chance the official depth chart does not match what we’re seeing on game day.
(47) 1. Eric Reid
(48) 1a. Donte Whitner
(49) 2. C.J. Spillman
(50) 3. Trenton Robinson
(51) 4. Michael Thomas
The 49ers have carried a number of safeties since Vic Fangio took over as defensive coordinator.
They have brought players into understudy roles, developing them while they contribute to the team’s special teams unit. C.J. Spillman, Trenton Robinson and Michael Thomas have carried over as the backups at safety.
They are versatile, talented and interchangeable within the defensive scheme.
And since the 49ers do not want to lose any more components on special teams, they will return the majority of the safety corps. This way, their investment carries over and the backups can continue their growth in San Francisco.
Donte Whitner will also reprise his role as the team’s captaining, downhill safety.
The changeup at the position comes with the exit of Dashon Goldson and the arrival of Eric Reid. After the 49ers All-Pro free safety left for Tampa Bay, the team leapt up in Round 1 of the draft for the hard-hitting LSU defender.
If things go according to plan, Reid will plug in at the free safety spot opposite Whitner.
(52) 1. Phil Dawson
(53) 1. Andy Lee
The 49ers have two All-Pro special teams kickers in Phil Dawson (K) and Andy Lee (P).
Dawson will come in as a stand-in for David Akers, who endured an abysmal downward spiral in 2012. With the addition of Dawson, the 49ers hope to bring consistency back to field-goal kicking in the Bay Area.
Meanwhile, Lee has been Mr. Dependable for San Francisco.
Dylan DeSimone is the San Francisco 49ers lead columnist for Bleacher Report. A former NFL journalist and fantasy football writer for SB Nation, Niners Nation and SB Nation Bay Area, Dylan now writes for B/R.
To talk football with Dylan, follow him on Twitter @DeSimone80.