Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke will have some tough roster decisions to make.
The San Francisco 49ers have one of the strongest and deepest rosters in the NFL. This is a team that won the NFC West with a record of 11-4-1 and advanced through the playoffs, only to lose to the Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl.
The 49ers came within five yards of a world championship and anything short of that this season will be considered a failure. This makes each job on the 49ers' 53-man roster extremely competitive. For a young player to make the team and contribute right away is quite an accomplishment.
More realistically, most rookies and second-year men who make the team will either see spot duty or play mostly on special teams.
The possible exception to this could be the 49ers' first-round draft pick Eric Reid. If he proves he can handle it, he will be a starting safety on the 49ers' defense.
In addition to the 53-man roster, each team has a practice squad where they can keep eight players.
The rules on who you can keep are rather circuitous, but the main idea is the player must first pass through waivers, then can be eligible for the practice squad. If another team claims the player, they must put him on their 53-man roster and pay him for at least three weeks.
Let's take a look at the eight 49ers who are strong candidates for the practice squad.
All stats courtesy of sports-reference.com.
MarQueis Gray is a tight end out of Minnesota.
As a quarterback, Gray completed 150 of his 295 pass attempts, for 2,053 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also rushed for 1,731 yards and 12 touchdowns on 341 carries.
As a receiver, Gray caught 60 passes for 766 yards and six touchdowns.
Versatility is what attracted the 49ers to Gray, who signed as an undrafted free agent, (UFA).
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman envisions Gray as a hybrid player, much in the same mold as Delanie Walker, who departed as a free agent following the 2012 season.
Gray will learn the H-back and tight end position and, with a little time, should become a very productive role-player for the 49ers.
Linebacker Darius Fleming missed all of 2012 with a torn ACL.
Darius Fleming was the 49ers' fifth-round draft selection in 2012. In mini-camp, he tore his ACL and was lost for the season.
Fleming came into 2013 with high hopes, but hurt the same knee again in OTAs, this past June.
The outlook for Fleming is mixed as the 49ers expect him to be able to compete for a job when training camp opens. However, the fact that he injured the same knee, albeit not as seriously as last year, is a cause for concern.
The 49ers are well-stocked with backups at the linebacker spots, including Dan Skuta, Parys Haralson, Cam Johnson, Corey Lemonier and Nick Moody. Lemonier and Moody are 2013 draftees who will be competing with Fleming for a roster spot.
Fleming lost an entire year of football, and the apparent instability of his knee makes him a candidate for the practice squad. If he gets hurt again, the 49ers will not need to use a practice squad spot, but will put him on IR.
Patrick Omameh played in front of huge crowds at Michigan.
The San Francisco 49ers have a history of stashing promising offensive linemen on their practice squad. Right guard Alex Boone is a prime example of a raw talent that the 49ers molded into an NFL caliber lineman.
Like Boone, Patrick Omameh is an impressive physical specimen. He stands 6'4" and weighs in at 305 pounds. Omameh played against top competition at Michigan, and he will not be fazed by the big crowds he will see in the pro ranks.
Omameh needs work on his technique, which is exactly what the practice squad is for. Like Boone, a stint on the practice squad will give Omameh the opportunity to develop and improve.
Chuck Jacobs played his college football at Utah State.
Chuck Jacobs signed with the 49ers as an undrafted free agent, out of Utah State. He faces an uphill battle to win a job on the 49ers' 53-man roster.
The 49ers have several receivers ahead of Jacobs, including Anquan Boldin, Mario Manningham, Kyle Williams, Ricardo Lockette, A.J. Jenkins, Marlon Moore, Quinton Patton, Kassim Osgood and Chad Hall. In addition, Michael Crabtree is expected to return late in the season.
The 49ers will keep five or six receivers and the numbers will be too much for Jacobs to overcome.
Jacobs played two years at Utah State and had 61 receptions for 826 yards and seven touchdowns. He also has experience returning kicks.
Although Jacobs is unlikely to make the team, he does have a good shot at a practice squad opportunity.
Carter Bykowski played his college football at Iowa State.
Carter Bykowski was drafted in the seventh-round by the 49ers. He played his collegiate ball at Iowa State, beginning his career as a tight end.
Bykowski missed his sophomore year due to injury, then was shifted to tackle for his junior and senior seasons.
Bykowski is a decent athlete and was a solid tackle in college. However, for him to succeed in the NFL, he needs to add strength.
Standing 6'6", Bykowski can add muscle to his 306-pound frame. A year or two on the practice squad would enable him to improve his physicality and refine his techniques.
The 49ers are excited about the progress Jewel Hampton has made.
Jewel Hampton has been very impressive in his second year with the 49ers. An undrafted free agent last season, Hampton began the year on the non-football-related injury list and used that time to learn the system and improve his overall skills.
After the injury to Kendall Hunter, Hampton was activated and placed on the active roster, although he never got the chance to play.
Hampton only played two years of college football at Iowa, so his skills needed a lot of refinement. He was raw, but impressed the 49ers enough in 2012 to keep him around. The same scenario is likely to play out this year.
If anything were to happen to Frank Gore, LaMichael James, Kendall Hunter or Anthony Dixon, Hampton would have a very good chance to make the 53-man roster.
Hampton has improved tremendously over the past 12 months and has shown potential.
B.J. Daniels played quarterback at South Florida.
B.J. Daniels was a collegiate quarterback at South Florida. He was selected in the seventh-round of the 2013 draft.
Daniels is an outstanding athlete and the 49ers will utilize him in a variety of roles. We could see Daniels utilize his running skills as a quarterback or running back. He can also be used as a pass receiver or punt returner.
As a quarterback, Daniels will be behind Colin Kaepernick, Colt McCoy and Scott Tolzien, so his chances of winning a job as a quarterback are slim.
Daniels' biggest value may be as a scout team quarterback when the 49ers prepare to play a mobile quarterback in their upcoming game.
It will likely take Daniels a year to acclimate himself to the nuances of the different positions he may be asked to play in the NFL. The practice squad is the perfect place for him to learn.
Olympic star Lawrence Okoye hopes to land a job as a pass rusher for the 49ers.
The San Francisco 49ers fell in love with the athleticism of Lawrence Okoye. He is an impressive physical specimen, standing 6'6" and weighing in at 304 pounds.
What separates Okoye from other men his size is that he has great speed and quickness. He wowed scouts at the NFL combine with his tremendous athleticism.
There's just one problem, however. Okoye has never played football.
He is, therefore, starting behind everyone else and has much to learn.
Okoye struggled at the 49ers' mini-camp, which is to be expected. Although a great athlete, he is competing against other fine athletes who have played the game all their lives.
If the 49ers waive Okoye, it's unlikely another team will sign him because they must put him on their 53-man roster.
Okoye is not ready to compete at the NFL level.
If Okoye is not claimed, the 49ers can then sign him to their practice squad and continue to work with him.
The 49ers were intoxicated by Okoye's physical attributes, but now reality has set in. Playing professional football is much different than throwing the discus.