Every year, some players make larger-than-expected impacts when training camp rolls around. The San Francisco 49ers are no exception.
Last season, Anquan Boldin was expected to be a safety valve and tertiary option in the passing game. Instead, in the absence of Michael Crabtree, he emerged as the most potent offensive weapon on the team. Corey Lemonier surprised many by becoming a legitimate rotational linebacker in his rookie season, which came in handy when Aldon Smith missed time in rehab. Eric Reid went from rookie to starter to Pro Bowler.
There’s always someone who unexpectedly turns heads. Yes, we expect players like Joe Staley, Patrick Willis and Frank Gore to look good when the pads start coming on, but which players might be the candidates to surprise people this offseason?
No starters, or projected starters, are included on this list. A starter performing well isn’t a surprise, it’s a requirement. Nor are players involved in a battle for a starting spot, removing people like Daniel Kilgore and Marcus Martin, who look to fight for the starting center role.
Instead, we’re looking at players on the back half of the roster. They might be fighting to make the roster entirely, or simply to get a larger role and snap count during the regular season. They range from the future of positions to former starters attempting to regain their roles to intriguing developmental prospects.
With few roster spots available on a team as loaded as the 49ers, and so many established starters locking down their roles early, many of these players have an uphill climb ahead of them. Don’t be surprised, however, if you start hearing their names more and more as training camp goes on.