4 Undrafted San Francisco 49ers Players Who Could Prove to Be Gems
The San Francisco 49ers had one of the most impressive hauls in the 2014 NFL Draft, signing a total of 12 new players to their roster.
Additionally, San Francisco also added seven undrafted free agents following the end of the draft, although USC linebacker Morgan Breslin has since been waived.
Even with Breslin's departure from the team, there is still an array of UDFAs on the Niners' books who will be hoping to forget the disappointment of not being selected and make enough of an impression in the offseason to nail down a spot on the permanent 53-man roster.
And the current crop of UDFAs can take plenty of inspiration from a number of 49er team-mates who have gone on to make an impact for San Francisco despite going undrafted.
Tramaine Brock has established himself as a starting cornerback, and guard Alex Boone, per Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area, is now holding out for a new contract after becoming a key part of the 49ers' offense.
Defensive lineman Tony Jerod-Eddie and linebackers Dan Skuta and Michael Wilhoite all made contributions in rotation in the 2013 season.
Furthermore, Kassim Osgood, C.J. Spillman and Bubba Ventrone, all of whom went undrafted, have been impact players on special teams for San Francisco.
But which players from the 2014 group of UDFAs have the potential to earn a role for themselves on the San Francisco team? Here I look at four undrafted free agents who are best placed to make it in the NFL.
To label quarterback Kory Faulkner as a potential gem seems wishful and requires a huge leap of faith at this point in his fledgling pro career.
Faulkner was signed after a collegiate career with Southern Illinois in which he threw for 5,339 yards, 34 touchdowns and 22 interceptions, according to David Fucillo of SB Nation.
It promises to be a difficult transition for Faulkner from the Missouri Valley Conference to the NFL, but while little will be expected of the 23-year-old in his first year attempting to make it as a pro, he has already earned the praise of the 49ers' coaching staff.
Indeed, offensive coordinator Greg Roman, per Kevin Lynch of The San Francisco Chronicle, has been impressed with the ability Faulkner has displayed so far, particularly his proficiency in throwing under pressure.
Kory's diligent as heck. He is a lot of fun to work with. He's the kind of guy that at some point in his career you can probably turn the keys over to him. And that's a long ways off, but he definitely does some things that we like.
He had no offensive line in college. But he can throw under duress let me tell you that. The first play here, I think we had really good protection and we said to him, 'What'd you think of that? That was pretty neat, wasn't it? You haven't had that in a while.' He had a big smile on his face.
If he stays with the 49ers, then the chances of him being given the keys to the offense are slim, that is as long as Colin Kaepernick—signed to a six-year extension earlier this month—remains with the team.
But the fact that the Niners already appear to have that level of faith in Faulkner is an encouraging sign that he could at least become a solid second- or third-string quarterback in the NFL.
The 49ers have outstanding depth on their offensive line, which is arguably the best in the NFL.
That spells bad news for any young undrafted lineman hoping to make a case for a place on the active roster.
Michigan State's Fouimalo Fonoti will be one such player aiming to work his way into the picture following a strong final season with the Spartans.
Fonoti, per 49ers.com, played 14 games in his senior year at right tackle, including 11 consecutive to close out the season, and performed well enough to be named as an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten selection.
However, with his 6'4" and 310-pound frame, Fonoti projects as more of a guard at the NFL level, but even with a strong offseason, Fonoti will have a hard time making a run at the 53-man squad.
Yet Fonoti has already managed to catch the eye of head coach Jim Harbaugh who—per Fucillo—praised the 22-year-old for his "outstanding job" during minicamp.
Fonoti looks to be more of a long-term practice squad project for the 49ers. However, given his size and San Francisco's tendency to run heavy offensive formations, this is a player that could yet have a future in the Bay Area.
Few 49ers' fans will be familiar with the name of safety James "LJ" McCray.
But McCray, who spent his collegiate career with Division II Catawba, has already turned some heads during the early stages of San Francisco's offseason programme.
According to Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee, the big-bodied safety made an impression at the 49ers' minicamp, breaking up a couple of passes in red zone drills and grabbing an interception in 11-on-11 workouts.
McCray has impressed Vic Fangio in his brief time with the 49ers organization, although San Francisco's defensive coordinator, per Fucillo, accepts that the 23-year-old is still a long way from making the step up to the NFL.
He's done well for a small school guy. He's got good ability. He's got good speed and he's tough. Shows some instincts. He's got to learn a lot. And that can be a slow process at times for these guys. But, I do like what he's shown and he’s got some potential.
His speed may increase McCray's chance of making an impact in the NFL.
According to Fucillo, McCray ran a 4.46 40-yard dash at Wake Forest's pro day, but while he clearly has excellent physical attributes, it is extremely unlikely that McCray is able to do enough to earn a spot on the 53-man roster this year.
A place on the practice squad appears more probable, and the hope for McCray will be that, with the likes of Spillman, Ventrone, Osgood all set to be free agents in 2015, he can become a factor on special teams.
In all probability, the undrafted player with the biggest chance to make an impact early in his career is Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov.
Tipped as a potential third- to fourth-round pick, the fact that Skov's name was not called during the draft can be viewed as somewhat of a surprise.
After fighting back from a torn ACL sustained in 2011, Skov rebounded magnificently in 2013 as he totaled 109 overall tackles, 13 of them for a loss, with 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles, per Sports Reference.
Skov's injury problems during the pre-draft process, which saw him miss the NFL Scouting Combine with a calf complaint and sit out the majority of Stanford's pro day because of a hamstring problem, may have hurt his stock in the draft last month, according to The San Francisco Chronicle's Eric Branch.
Additionally, Skov suffers from a lack of speed to beat running backs to the edge, yet he is a player that is ideally suited to the 49ers' 3-4 defensive scheme after operating in a similar system during his time in Palo Alto.
That experience of competing within a similar defense should help Skov adjust to life in the NFL.
Furthermore, Skov is likely to benefit from his familiarity with the Bay Area and the coaching staff, having worked with Harbaugh and defensive co-ordinator Vic Fangio in his first two seasons at Stanford.
A player with a nose for the backfield and a penchant for making a big play, Skov—assuming that he impresses enough to make the roster—is expected have to compete with Wilhoite, third-round draft pick Chris Borland and Nick Moody for playing time in the absence of injured All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman.
Skov, per Branch, is under no illusions of the task facing him, but is determined to make the most of the chance he has been afforded.
"Obviously, I'm an undrafted free agent. So I've got to get to work and prove myself, but I think I've got that opportunity here."
And if he is able to grasp that opportunity and make the team, then Skov has all the tools to earn some first-team reps in Bowman's stead and prove that he deserved to be selected in the draft.
Nicholas McGee is a San Francisco 49ers Featured Columnist based in Leeds, England. Follow him on Twitter @nicholasmcgee24