Breaking Down All the New Faces on the 2014 San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers will have significant roster turnover this coming season. Looking ahead to the final 53-man squad, we could see somewhere between 20-25 percent of the entire roster being new players.
Gone are veterans Jonathan Goodwin, Tarell Brown, Carlos Rogers, Anthony Dixon and Colt McCoy. There are also going to be several interesting position battles as the new blood tries to wrestle jobs away from the incumbents.
General manager Trent Baalke selected 12 players in the draft and also brought in several veterans via trade or the free-agent market.
The competition for coveted spots on the roster will be intense, and there will likely be some surprise cuts looming on the horizon.
Let's take a look at the new faces on the roster with the best chances of making the team and contributing this coming year.
Stevie Johnson, Wide Receiver
The San Francisco 49ers made a bold and decisive move by acquiring talented wide receiver Stevie Johnson. GM Trent Baalke traded a conditional fourth-round pick to the Buffalo Bills for Johnson.
This was an excellent move by the 49ers that significantly strengthens their wide receiver corps.
Johnson will be entering his seventh NFL season and should be in his prime at the age of 27. He had a down year in 2013, with only 52 catches for 597 yards and three touchdowns. A big part of that can be attributed to the Bills' poor quarterback play.
Prior to the 2013 season, Johnson had three consecutive years with more than 1,000 yards receiving.
The acquisition of Johnson, who joins Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin, will give the 49ers more opportunities to utilize three-wide receiver sets.
If Crabtree, Boldin and Johnson are healthy and on the field at the same time, it will be a huge upgrade over what the 49ers have had in the past few years.
Johnson also gives the 49ers a proven veteran at the wide receiver spot, should they lose Crabtree in the free-agent market following the 2014 season. In addition to being a fine player, Johnson is valuable insurance if Crabtree prices himself out of the 49ers' range.
Antoine Bethea, Safety
After the 2013 season, strong safety Donte Whitner departed via free agency to the Cleveland Browns. GM Trent Baalke acted quickly by signing former Indianapolis safety Antoine Bethea to a four-year, $21 million deal.
Bethea is a solid tackler and good against the run. Unlike Whitner, he is less prone to penalties. He is more concerned with getting the man to the ground than attempting the big hit, which has been Whitner's forte.
In 2013 Bethea had 80 tackles, 30 assists and two interceptions. This compares favorably to Whitner, who had 58 tackles, 15 assists and two interceptions.
Whitner also received several penalties last year, as the NFL tightened the rules against crushing, head-high shots.
The question concerning Bethea is about his coverage skills, which was the same issue that plagued Whitner.
David Neumann broke down Bethea's overall skill set in an article on NinersNation.com. Bethea's strength is not his coverage ability as Neumann points out in his assessment.
Bethea will be the starting strong safety for the foreseeable future. However, down the road, he ultimately could be replaced by Jimmie Ward.
Blaine Gabbert, Quarterback
Blaine Gabbert replaces Colt McCoy as the 49ers' backup quarterback. In the event that Colin Kaepernick is injured, Gabbert should give the 49ers a better chance than McCoy.
Gabbert is entering his fourth year in the league and had previously started 27 games for the Jacksonville Jaguars. In his career, he has completed 414 of 777 pass attempts for a 53.3 completion percentage. He has thrown 22 touchdowns against 24 interceptions.
The 49ers sent a sixth-round pick in the 2014 draft to the Jaguars in exchange for Gabbert.
The bottom line, however, is that if he is playing any meaningful downs, that means something bad has happened to Kaepernick. That will not be good for the 49ers.
Although he's a step up from McCoy, the 49ers ultimately hope that we see Gabbert on the sidelines wearing a baseball cap and holding a clipboard.
Chris Cook, Cornerback
The San Francisco 49ers signed much maligned cornerback Chris Cook from the Minnesota Vikings to a one-year deal.
While he will compete for playing time, he has a lot of improving to do before he sees meaningful action. He allowed an alarming nine touchdown passes last season, the most of any NFL cornerback, as discussed by Eric Branch on SFGate.com.
Branch also noted that opposing quarterbacks torched Cook with a 140.3 passer rating when directing their passes his way.
With the departures of Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers in free agency, the cornerback spot is by far the weakest area on the team. In addition, Eric Wright just announced his retirement, which puts even more heat on an area that was already on thin ice.
Cook is going to get a chance to show what he can do, but he must perform a lot better than he did in Minnesota.
Jonathan Martin, Offensive Tackle
After the controversial issue regarding the hazing of Jonathan Martin by his Miami Dolphins teammates, they had to move him. Enter the San Francisco 49ers, who swooped in and made a deal for the embattled Martin.
The 49ers will send a conditional seventh-round draft pick in 2015 to Miami, if he makes the team.
Andrew Pentis of 49ers.com reports that Martin has stated that he is healthy after a bout with mononucleosis and ready to compete for a job.
Martin will vie for a roster spot as a backup offensive tackle, although he could also see time at guard, especially if the Alex Boone holdout drags on.
After a miserable experience in Miami, Martin is getting a second chance with the 49ers. Now it's up to him to make the most of this opportunity.
Brandon Lloyd, Wide Receiver
Brandon Lloyd signed with the 49ers after sitting out all of last season. He joins a crowded wide receiver corps, with Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Stevie Johnson, Quinton Patton, Jon Baldwin and Bruce Ellington all competing for jobs.
In addition, special teams ace Kassim Osgood, another wide receiver, is an extremely valuable player. He has an opportunity to make the team based solely on his tremendous impact on special teams.
As reported by Cory Buck on Fansided.com, Lloyd has played well in practices, according to head coach Jim Harbaugh:
He’s got the ability to burst at the top of his routes,” coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Runs excellent routes. Acrobatic type of catches that he’s able to make. Really good hands. So far really good. No, it does not seem like a guy that’s had a layoff from football for a year.
The big question the 49ers face is how many wide receivers they will keep on the roster. Lloyd will likely beat out Baldwin, but Patton, Ellington and Osgood are also held in high regard. It could come down to a numbers game with Lloyd being the odd man out, as he will be 33 years old in July.
Jimmie Ward, Defensive Back
The defensive secondary took another hit when cornerback Eric Wright announced his retirement. That leaves only Tramaine Brock as the only proven cornerback who is not coming off an injury.
GM Trent Baalke selected defensive back Jimmie Ward with the first pick in the recent draft. Although he mostly played safety in college, he does have experience playing as a slot corner, which will be his initial role in San Francisco.
He is coming off foot surgery in March and is currently rehabbing the injury. He has been working out at OTAs and minicamp but has not practiced in the 49ers defense.
As reported by David Fucillo of NinersNation.com, Ward is expected to be fully healthy by the start of training camp. However, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has stated that Ward will be behind because of missing the on-field reps:
You can sit in all these meetings you want, but the best way a players improves is: meet, go practice, come back and meet some more, learn what you did wrong, learn some new things, go practice...He’s not getting any of that practice. He can be practicing mentally in his head all he wants. That only takes you to a certain point. He’s got to go out there and experience it.
Ward will compete with Perrish Cox for the slot corner job, a position that is likely to be on the field for a majority of defensive snaps. His recovery and performance is critical to the 49ers defense, which is already very thin at cornerback.
In the long run, Ward could ultimately be the replacement at safety for Antoine Bethea. However, with the departure of Wright, Ward will be even more focused on his role in the 49ers' nickel package.
Carlos Hyde, Running Back
In a somewhat surprising move, the 49ers used their second-round draft pick, No. 57 overall, to select Carlos Hyde out of Ohio State.
With Frank Gore still a very productive player, Marcus Lattimore returning and Kendall Hunter as a change-of-pace back, the 49ers could have used this selection to pick up a top quality cornerback, which continues to be a major need.
Hyde is expected to be used in short-yardage situations and will also compete with Lattimore for playing time as a backup to Gore.
In Hyde's senior season at Ohio State, he carried the ball 208 times for 1,521 yards, which measures out to a 7.3 yards-per-carry average. He had 15 touchdowns as a senior and 16 in his junior year.
Although he is a fine player with a good upside, his carries will be limited with Gore serving the main running back. Lattimore and Hunter will also get their opportunities, so expectations for Hyde must be tempered in the 2014 season.
Gore's contract expires at the end of this season, and Hyde does give the 49ers some leverage as they negotiate with the veteran. In addition, if Gore looks like he's slowing down, Hyde could ultimately be his replacement.
Marcus Martin, Center
With the 70th overall selection in the draft, the 49ers snagged Marcus Martin, a highly touted center from USC. He was an All-Pac-12 first-team selection this past season.
With veteran Jonathan Goodwin leaving via free agency, this pick made perfect sense. Martin will compete with Daniel Kilgore for the starting center role.
Kilgore has worked as a guard and center and is entering his fourth NFL season. However, he has yet to start a game, which brings into question the 49ers' confidence in him. Joe Looney and Adam Snyder both filled in on the offensive line ahead of Kilgore.
The center is responsible for the offensive line calls, so Martin has a lot to learn and will need to develop chemistry with the other linemen. Nevertheless, he has a legitimate chance to win the starting job.
Chris Borland, Linebacker
The San Francisco 49ers selected Chris Borland in the third round with the 77th overall pick. He played his college ball at Wisconsin and averaged nearly 120 tackles over his last three seasons with the Badgers.
The knock on him is that he is a bit undersized at 5'11" and 248 pounds and not a great athlete. In addition, he is slower than you would like for an inside linebacker.
However, he has excellent football instincts and just makes plays on the field. He is a student of the game and uses those instincts to put himself in the right place to make a play.
Borland gives the 49ers added depth at the inside linebacker spot, especially with NaVorro Bowman expected to miss the first half of the 2014 season.
Michael Wilhoite will start in place of Bowman and line up next to Patrick Willis. If either of those two gets injured prior to the return of Bowman, Borland might get his chance.
Realistically, barring injury, he will make his impact on special teams.
Bruce Ellington, Wide Receiver
With the 106th overall pick, the 49ers selected wide receiver Bruce Ellington out of South Carolina. This was an excellent value pick as it was a bit of a surprise that he was still available in the fourth round.
Some teams may have been scared off by his lack of size at 5'9" and 197 pounds. Concerns over his durability may have caused him to drop in the draft.
As noted earlier when discussing Brandon Lloyd's chances to make the roster, the 49ers have a glut of quality wide receivers.
Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and Stevie Johnson will be the top three, so Ellington will be battling for playing time against Lloyd, Quinton Patton, Jon Baldwin and Kassim Osgood.
The 49ers envision Ellington as a slot receiver, where he can utilize his speed and quickness to get off the line and get down the field quickly.
The reality of the matter is that barring injuries to one or two of the top receivers, Ellington will not see much playing time.
His best chance to make the team and see action is as a return man. The 49ers have not been enamored with LaMichael James and appear ready to let him move on. If Ellington can prove he can take care of the ball, he stands an excellent chance of beating out James.
Dontae Johnson, Cornerback
The San Francisco 49ers waited until late in the fourth round to select their second defensive back of the draft. Dontae Johnson was the 129th overall pick and will compete for playing time at the corner.
With the retirement of Eric Wright, plus the likelihood of injury to at least one of the other corners, Johnson may be forced into action. This would not be ideal, as he needs a lot more experience and improvement before he can guard NFL wide receivers.
If he sees action on the 49ers defense, that would not bode well. That would mean several of the other cornerbacks were unable to play.
As he gains experience, he will get better, but there will be some growing pains along the way.
Look for him to see action on special teams, but if he is in on defense, something went wrong for the 49ers.
All stats are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com.