Report Card Grades for San Francisco 49ers' Undrafted Free Agent Signings
The San Francisco 49ers entered the 2014 NFL draft with 74 players under contract, then added 12 players via the draft to an already elite roster comprised of some of the most well-known talent in the NFL.
That left four roster spots open for the maximum 90 spots the team could carry heading into training camp.
In short, the 49ers had room for an additional four undrafted free agents (UDFAs). While the 49ers can essentially select as many as they want, roster cuts would be in order once the total number climbs above 90.
The full list of signed UDFAs—and subsequent roster cuts—can be viewed here.
In all, San Francisco tabbed a total of seven UDFAs—many from small schools—following the draft. Some of these players figure to be little more than depth, while others have a legitimate shot to make the final 53-man roster.
By nature UDFAs typically are developmental players that teams hope they can turn into useful elements at the NFL level. While many do not pan out to be anything substantial, others eventually turn into gems.
So how did the 49ers pan out when it comes to selecting these UDFAs? Are some of these seven destined for a promising future in San Francisco? Which players on this list should be considered steals?
In this slideshow, we break down each one of the 49ers' UDFA signings that took place following the draft.
To determine the final grade, we must evaluate the following criteria: Does the signee fit into the 49ers' overall needs? Could this prospect have been a legitimate draft target? Most importantly, does this pickup have a legitimate shot at making an impact at the NFL level?
Let's have a look.
For initial reaction, analysis and grades of each of the 49ers' UDFA signings, visit this author's breakdown here.
Kory Faulkner, QB, Southern Illinois
Kory Faulkner, Quarterback, Southern Illinois
Head coach Jim Harbaugh's predraft tour of collegiate quarterbacks must have paid off when the 49ers eventually landed UDFA Kory Faulkner out of Southern Illinois.
Just got off phone with Coach Harbaugh!! I am a 49er!!!!!!!— Kory Faulkner (@KFaulk19) May 10, 2014
At 6'3" and 229 pounds, Faulkner is a big-armed quarterback who threw 18 touchdowns against four interceptions at Southern Illinois last year per Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee.
While it would have been feasible for the 49ers to target a project quarterback late in the draft, Harbaugh and the 49ers' coaching staff elected to go the UDFA route, signing Faulkner in the hours following the conclusion of the draft.
Faulkner was tabbed by CBS Sports as the 633rd overall prospect in the draft and the 35th overall quarterback.
In terms of "stealing" a guy who should have gone in the draft, San Francisco did not exactly cash in here. But they did not worry about having to utilize a draft pick on him, and Harbaugh must have seen something he liked when he attended the Northwestern Pro Day.
We all know that Harbaugh knows a thing or two about developing young quarterbacks, so it is best perhaps to trust the head coach's vision here and hope the 49ers found a steal even if his CBS prospect ranking was not particularly high.
As mentioned, the 49ers could have drafted a quarterback in the late rounds of the draft and no one would have said much negative.
San Francisco's Nos. 1 and 2 quarterbacks entering the season should be Colin Kaepernick and offseason acquisition Blaine Gabbert. That leaves the competition open for the third-string position up to Faulkner and McLeod Bethel-Thompson.
Kory Faulkner will be interesting competition for McLeod Bethel-Thompson. Third string QB the biggest revolving door on the #49ers.— Christian Gin (@Christian_Gin) May 10, 2014
Last season, the 49ers employed a plethora of backups—Colt McCoy, Scott Tolzien, Seneca Wallace and B.J. Daniels.
With all three off the roster, Faulkner now has the chance to at least crack the 53-man roster pending an impressive training camp.
Per David Fucillo of Niners Nation, Faulkner's likely destination is probably the practice squad where Harbaugh and the quarterback coaches can continue to develop his talents and setbacks.
Faulkner does provide some good competition behind Gabbert and Kaepernick. Bethel-Thompson is a relatively unknown commodity and the 49ers love competition in training camp.
The Southern Illinois project provides that.
Morgan Breslin, OLB, USC
Morgan Breslin, Outside Linebacker, USC
The 49ers have already addressed the need to supplement the outside linebacker position following the draft.
San Francisco needs to add depth at this position considering the legal and NFL ramifications that may be imminent to current 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith.
Smith is facing an NFL suspension per Ian Rapoport of ESPN (h/t Dan Hanzus of NFL.com) and while the length of the suspension is not yet known, a solid guess would put it close to eight weeks.
That leaves the 49ers with a substantial void on the outside of the defensive front seven.
2014 draftees like Aaron Lynch are the favorites to fill in behind Smith's stand-ins Corey Lemonier and Dan Skuta.
But the 49ers weren't done addressing this position—electing to take 6'2", 250-pound linebacker Morgan Breslin following the draft.
CBS Sports listed Breslin as a potential seventh-round prospect or as an UDFA.
Also listed as a defensive end, Derek Stephens and Rob Rang of CBS Sports cited his size limitations and his inability to engage against the run as primary weaknesses to Breslin's draft stock.
There is certainly no overlooking that, but it is worth mentioning that a 2013 mock draft from Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke had Breslin being a top-10 pick in 2014.
It is hard to fathom that talent and ability simply disappearing over one year.
If Breslin turns into something useful, the 49ers could very well have landed themselves a steal.
As we mentioned, the 49ers are well-stocked behind the potential suspension and legal ramifications pending against Smith.
In all likelihood, Breslin has a mere outside shot to crack the 53-man roster.
Yet David Fucillo of Niners Nation points out that Breslin does have good pass-rushing ability, which is likely his best asset when it comes to breaking into the final 49ers roster.
Smith is a pass-rusher and may miss half the season. Lemonier is one as well while Skuta is best suited on special teams.
This does open a door for Breslin if he is able to seize the opportunity.
Breslin is likely a practice-squad addition at this point. But he does add some likable depth in case one of the other 49ers linebackers falls victim to injury.
He's a project player at best at this point, but the addition makes sense.
Asante Cleveland, TE, Miami
Another developmental UDFA prospect the 49ers tabbed was Miami Hurricanes' tight end Asante Cleveland.
49ers confirm seventh undrafted rookie signing: TE Asante Cleveland (Miami).— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) May 13, 2014
The 6'5", 260-pound tight end was underutilized offensively over four years with the Hurricanes—netting only 14 receptions for 150 yards during his tenure in Miami.
His size however gives an offense an intriguing option when it comes to setting up jumbo, goal-line packages inside the red zone.
Perhaps this is what the 49ers envisioned when they grabbed him.
Per CBS Sports, Cleveland was not expected to be a draft-day target—ranked as the 27th-best tight end prospect.
Like many UDFAs, Cleveland must trigger some sort of interest from a specific NFL team in order to wind up being signed.
The 49ers obviously have some interest considering their red-zone woes in recent years. But what gives Cleveland some extra value is the fact that the young tight end was touted by both the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots, per Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee.
#49ers, Eagles, Patriots all were vying for Sacramento's Asante Cleveland. SF, Eric Mangini won. The 265 lber will compete for 3rd TE role.— Matt Barrows (@mattbarrows) May 12, 2014
The mutual interest from the 49ers, Eagles and Patriots gives Cleveland a bit more value here.
San Francisco will already carry over four tight ends from last year into 2014—Vernon Davis, Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek and Derek Carrier.
While Davis and McDonald's jobs in 2014 are all but safe, Cleveland does have a shot to compete for the third tight end slot entering the season.
His size alone makes him an intriguing option. If the 49ers elect to get a little bigger in jumbo packages to punch balls into the end zone, Cleveland has good value.
But in all reality, Celek should be the favorite as the third-string tight end given his practical NFL experience and relative ability to catch the ball.
Still, Cleveland may be tucked away on the practice squad, which may knock Carrier off the roster at some point.
Cleveland's final grade will ultimately depend on how the 49ers decide to utilize him. A strong training camp should provide us with an accurate indication of this.
If he turns enough heads in camp, this pickup will wind up being a wise one.
Dillon Farrell, C, New Mexico
Dillon Farrell, Center, New Mexico
The 49ers likely found former center Jonathan Goodwin's replacement heading into 2014—twice.
First, San Francisco gave backup lineman Daniel Kilgore a three-year, $4.85 million contract extension during the offseason. To make things even more interesting, the 49ers added USC center Marcus Martin in Round 3.
This alone creates the necessary competition entering training camp. Backup offensive lineman Joe Looney may also figure into the equation.
Despite this, San Francisco picked up UDFA Dillon Farrell out of New Mexico to compete for the center position.
The move is an interesting one considering the already apparent competition to take over center on San Francisco's offensive line in 2014.
Coming from a small school, Farrell brings a little more to the mix.
At 6'5" and 303 pounds, Farrell is one of the tallest prospects at his position coming out of the draft. Per CBS Sports however, Farrell was not touted as being selected, nor was he listed as a potential UDFA target.
This knocks Farrell's value down to a certain extent, but as Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee points out, the young center did receive All-Mountain West honorable mention honors his senior year, so that gives him a bit of a boost.
In all likelihood, there were probably some other higher-ranked centers still available if the 49ers wanted to go that route.
As mentioned, the 49ers' competition at center will likely focus on Kilgore and Martin with Looney being a dark-horse candidate.
Farrell's likely destination is either on the practice squad or being eventually released by San Francisco.
Given the established depth—plus the high-profile addition of Martin—Farrell's chances of cracking the 53-man roster are slim-to-none.
But an impressive training camp could wind up convincing some team that he is worthy of a shot elsewhere.
It is hard to see the true fit with Farrell in San Francisco. While Trent Baalke obviously has a better idea than this author regarding who he wants to put on the roster, Farrell's chances of actually cracking into the NFL seem remote at best.
Fou Fonoti, OT, Michigan State
Fou Fonoti, Offensive Tackle, Michigan State
Adding depth to an offensive line is never a bad idea.
We all know how much attrition an O-line can suffer over the duration of the season. San Francisco is no exception.
Fortunately, the 49ers bulked up this line over the course of the offseason. First, they acquired former Miami Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin. Then they added supplemental pieces via the draft—Marcus Martin and Brandon Thomas.
Then, they tabbed Michigan State offensive lineman Fou Fonoti as an UDFA.
Michigan State OT Fou Fonoti will sign with #49ers.— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) May 11, 2014
Fonoti will compete for positioning on the 49ers' depth chart entering 2014.
Per CBS Sports, the 6'4", 308-pound Fonoti was not projected as a draft-day target—rather he was listed as the 28th-best prospect at outside tackle.
Fonoti does have viable experience as both a guard and tackle at Michigan State. This gives him and the 49ers added flexibility when it comes to reinforcing the offensive line.
Like so many other UDFAs, it is hard to say there is extreme value with picking up a player such as Fonoti. He was not highly touted entering the draft, which certainly led to him being available following Round 7.
Yet an injury suffered in 2012 perhaps boosted his chances to getting into the NFL.
“If that hadn’t happened,” Fonoti said via Lansing State Journal, “I wouldn’t be talking to you right now, wouldn’t be talking about the NFL.”
On a personal level, this has to be a bonus for Fonoti.
San Francisco's O-line is stacked. Yet as we have seen, offensive lines can suffer varying degrees of attrition over the course of a season.
Given his size, Fonoti is best suited at the guard position rather than tackle, although the flexibility is a nice addition on San Francisco's depth chart.
Fonoti should start 2014 on the 49ers' practice squad, but expect a call-up if one of San Francisco's venerable linemen goes down with a lengthy injury at any point during the season.
Considering the value of versatile offensive linemen and the frequency of injury that can hinder NFL teams, the bulking of the O-line in any way possible is always a plus.
From this perspective, Fonoti's signing is not a bad addition in the least. He'll likely be stashed away his rookie season pending injury, but it is nice insurance to have.
LJ McCray, Safety, Catawba
LJ McCray, Safety, Catawba
College Statistics (Provided by Draft Countdown)
As far as safeties go entering 2014, the 49ers are all but set.
Returning will be Pro Bowler Eric Reid. Added to the mix is the veteran Antoine Bethea, picked up in free agency. Jimmie Ward was picked up by San Francisco in Round 1.
The 49ers also have a number of other viable backups.
Yet LJ McCray out of Catawba adds even further depth at this position.
He also adds another likable asset—returning kicks.
McCray saw plenty of action in the return game at the alma mater of current 49ers defensive line coach Jim Tomsula.
#49ers latest UFA: safety/returner L.J. McCray from Catawaba (Jim Tomsula's alma mater)— Cam Inman (@CamInman) May 11, 2014
This gives the 49ers added options—if not on defense, certainly on special teams.
McCray will assuredly not factor into the 49ers' plans on defense. The 49ers have plenty of depth there.
But according to Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee, McCray had an impressive pro day—posting a 41-inch vertical leap. At 6'0" and 215 pounds, McCray offers plenty of strength and size for the position.
Listed by CBS Sports as the 17th-best prospect at the strong safety position, McCray also slotted in at cornerback. But his best fit for San Francisco is probably on special teams per David Fucillo of Niners Nation.
McCray's value is best felt on special teams, especially considering his abilities to return kicks. This might be an area where the 49ers need help.
San Francisco's return game in 2014 could be in question after what transpired during the draft.
The 49ers added standout running back Carlos Hyde with their second-overall pick in the draft. That move pushes running back and current return-man LaMichael James down the depth chart even further.
If James winds up on the trading block or being cut, the door should be open for another player to fill the void.
Bruce Ellington—one of the 49ers' two fourth-round picks—should be the favorite to return kicks if James departs.
But McCray also is a likable—and bigger—option if indeed this is the case.
McCray is a bonus for the 49ers when it comes to serving on special teams' coverage units and potentially as a kick returner.
While he would be buried deep on the safety depth chart, breaking in to the 53-man roster is a very good possibility given his unique role.
Shayne Skov, ILB, Stanford
Shayne Skov, Inside Linebacker, Stanford
San Francisco pulled off potentially one of the biggest steals of the UDFA period immediately following the draft when they landed Stanford inside linebacker Shayne Skov.
Don't know where the whole Oakland thing came from... But I'm headed to the 49ers, gunna make my mark in this league before it's all over— Gojira ゴジラ Skov (@ShayneSkov) May 11, 2014
The former Stanford linebacker—who has ties with Jim Harbaugh and Vic Fangio per Cam Inman of The San Jose Mercury News—will once again be reunited with his collegiate head coach.
Skov will add further depth to San Francisco's interior linebackers in the wake of the injury that befell NaVorro Bowman during the NFC Championship game last season.
In terms of overall value, this is an absolute coup by the 49ers.
Skov was ranked by CBS Sports as the No. 3 available inside linebacker available in the draft and was projected as early as Round 3.
San Francisco also tabbed the second-highest ranked inside linebacker during the draft—Chris Borland.
Stanford's Shayne Skov now says he will join the 49ers. Team took inside linebacker Chris Borland in the third round.— Matt Barrows (@mattbarrows) May 11, 2014
For whatever reason Skov slipped. The 49ers will be adding a pass-rushing linebacker who posted 16 sacks and 40.5 tackles for a loss during his five-year collegiate career.
In spite of his merely adequate speed, Skov displayed an aggressive style of play, which helped inflate his solid numbers—all described on his CBS Sports draft profile.
It's hard to see too many other players that have a greater value at this point than Skov.
As we have discussed, the 49ers will be looking to supplement the loss of Bowman for at least half the 2014 season, most likely.
Veteran Michael Wilhoite should be the favorite to fill in Bowman's stead like he did last year for Patrick Willis. Yet players like Borland and Skov will give Wilhoite plenty of young competition.
While Borland appears to be the favorite to be the one who overtakes Wilhoite in this role based on his draft status alone, Skov at least adds amicable depth behind both of these linebackers.
Backup Nick Moody will also figure into the equation.
Based on his familiarity with Harbaugh and Fangio alone, Skov should have a better-than-average chance of making the 53-man roster upon the 2014 season.
San Francisco got something special here. In terms of value, Skov is an excellent pickup. As far as the need goes, the 49ers have to add depth behind Bowman's loss.
Skov does this. Potentially he does more.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Be sure to check out his entire archive of the 49ers, including draft analysis, insight and projections.
Follow @PeterMcShots on Twitter.