Projected 49ers Final 53-Man Roster, Pre-Training Camp Edition
The San Francisco 49ers are coming off of a third consecutive NFC Championship Game appearance, boasting one of the most talented rosters in the league. Of course, this wealth of potential leads to its own set of problems, with the roster-reduction days of preseason creeping on the horizon.
What starts with a 90-man roster will be whittled down to 53 before the start of the regular season, leaving general manager Trent Baalke and head coach Jim Harbaugh with some difficult decisions.
Starters are mostly set on this roster, but several reserve roles are still up for grabs. With talented veterans and promising rookies all vying for the same 53 spots, the final cuts are sure to bring on some sleepless nights for the front office.
Both training camp and the preseason will have an effect on the final roster, but it's never too early for some good speculation. Based only on the current 49ers roster, let's look at who should be left standing when camp is all said and done.
On Roster (2): Colin Kaepernick, Blaine Gabbert
Cut: McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Josh Johnson, Kory Faulkner
After signing a monster contract extension this offseason, it's safe to say that starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick isn't going anywhere in the foreseeable future.
The only thing taking Kaepernick off the field is an injury or a blowout, which is why the team traded for former Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert to be the backup. While Gabbert has largely disappointed in his NFL career, the former No. 10 overall pick has starting experience and plenty of physical tools.
Gabbert's raw talent sets him apart from veteran backups McLeod Bethel-Thompson and Josh Johnson. Undrafted rookie Kory Faulkner has also impressed in camp, according to Kevin Lynch of SFGate.com, but is probably a stronger candidate for the practice squad than the final roster.
On Roster (5): Frank Gore, Bruce Miller, Carlos Hyde, Kendall Hunter, Marcus Lattimore
Cut: LaMichael James, Will Tukuafu, Jewel Hampton
Injured: Trey Millard
Running back Frank Gore is up there with death and taxes in terms of lifetime certainties, but the stable behind him has never been stronger. Starting fullback Bruce Miller is also back from a late-season injury to resume his invaluable role.
Behind these two stalwarts, the waters begin to get a little murky.
The 49ers invested a second-round pick in rookie Carlos Hyde and have waited a year to see 2013 fourth-round pick Marcus Lattimore in action. Considering the immense talent and potential that can be found in each of these runners, it's hard to imagine either being left off of the final roster.
With that in mind, veterans Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James would appear to be fighting for a final spot on the roster. Simply put, Hunter has been the more productive player to this point.
While James is also the current punt returner, rookie wide receiver Bruce Ellington does bring experience in that role, according to Taylor Price of 49ers.com. James would most likely be traded before he is cut, however, a belief also expressed by James Brady of Niners Nation.
Also of note, rookie fullback Trey Millard will likely spend the season injured reserve after tearing his ACL during the 2013 college season.
On Roster (6): Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Stevie Johnson, Bruce Ellington, Quinton Patton, Kassim Osgood
Cut: Brandon Lloyd, Jon Baldwin, Devon Wylie, David Reed, Chuck Jacobs
It's been a long time since the 49ers had a three-headed monster at wide receiver quite like the one they presently have featuring Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and Stevie Johnson. Rookie Bruce Ellington is also likely safe as a fourth-round pick, especially given some early hype as him being a potential catalyst on offense (via Rob Rang of CBSSports.com).
That leaves a wide-open battle for the fifth-receiver role, which should go to second-year wideout Quinton Patton. The Louisiana Tech product missed significant time as a rookie with a broken foot but has stood out in camp, according to Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee.
That leaves veterans Brandon Lloyd and Jon Baldwin on the outside looking in. While each has at least a feasible chance at making the roster, it's unlikely that the 49ers carry a sixth receiver without special teams purposes involved.
Technically listed as a wide receiver for roster purposes, veteran Kassim Osgood would provide that special teams punch while stealing a spot.
On Roster (3): Vernon Davis, Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek
Cut: Derek Carrier, Asante Cleveland, Kevin Greene
This is one of the clearer pictures on the entire 49ers roster.
Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman has reported that tight end Vernon Davis will likely hold out from training camp, but such holdouts rarely move into the regular season. Barring a nearly unprecedented situation, Davis will suit up for Week 1.
Behind Davis, 2013 second-round pick Vance McDonald disappointed last year as a rookie. However, McDonald's size and skills have plenty analysts on breakout alert, including James Brady of Niners Nation.
Veteran tight end Garrett Celek brings just six career receptions to the table, but his two years of experience with the 49ers should give him the edge for the final spot.
On Roster (8): Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Daniel Kilgore, Alex Boone, Anthony Davis, Marcus Martin, Joe Looney, Jonathan Martin
Cut: Adam Snyder, Fouimalo Fonoti, Al Netter, Ryan Seymour, Dillon Farrell, Carter Bykowski
Injured: Brandon Thomas
Already boasting one of the best offensive lines in football, the 49ers spent high draft picks on rookie center Marcus Martin and guard Brandon Thomas in 2014. Thomas unfortunately tore his ACL in predraft workouts (which allowed the 49ers to have a shot at him in the third round), but Martin should be in the mix for the starting center role, according to Bill Williamson of ESPN.com.
Familiar faces such as guard Mike Iupati and tackles Joe Staley and Anthony Davis will be safe from the final cut. Starting guard Alex Boone plans to hold out of training camp but should be expected in uniform for the season, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport (via NFL.com).
That leaves a number of linemen competing for a limited number of spots.
For starters, center Daniel Kilgore received a contract extension this offseason and is competing to start in 2014. San Francisco also traded for former Miami Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin, who should be safe even without his connection to coach Jim Harbaugh from their Stanford days.
Veteran guards Adam Snyder and Joe Looney will likely battle it out for the final reserve role, with Looney's youth ultimately winning out.
On Roster (7): Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, Glenn Dorsey, Tank Carradine, Ian Williams, Tony Jerod-Eddie, Quinton Dial
Cut: Demarcus Dobbs, Lawrence Okoye, Kaleb Ramsey, Mike Purcell
Another strength for the 49ers, the defensive line is packed with key contributors who will have no problem with the final cut, including defensive ends Justin Smith and Ray McDonald.
Nose tackle Glenn Dorsey also impressed last year after assuming the starting role in place of the injured Ian Williams, who was lost for the season in Week 2. As noted by David Fucillo of Niners Nation, Williams is still uncertain after his ankle injury, but both should ultimately make the roster.
Fucillo also gives the edge to defensive end Tony Jerod-Eddie over versatile lineman Demarcus Dobbs, mostly due to his play in relief last year.
That leaves two more spots for last year's redshirt rookies, defensive end Tank Carradine and defensive tackle Quinton Dial. Carradine in particular has impressed in camp, according to Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee, showing no lingering effects from the knee injury that cost him his rookie season.
Former Olympian Lawrence Okoye is an intriguing project but is likely too raw at this point for consideration beyond the practice squad.
On Roster (8): Patrick Willis, Ahmad Brooks, Aldon Smith, Michael Wilhoite, Corey Lemonier, Chris Borland, Dan Skuta, Shayne Skov
Cut: Nick Moody, Aaron Lynch, Blake Costanzo, Chase Thomas
Injured: NaVorro Bowman
To start, All-Pro outside linebacker Aldon Smith is expected to miss at least part of the 2014 season for disciplinary reasons, according to Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com. Until a clear resolution is in place, this projection will operate with the assumption that Smith is on the opening-week roster.
The 49ers will, however, have to deal with the loss of injured inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman to start the season.
All-Pro inside linebacker Patrick Willis will continue to man his side of the defense while veteran backup Michael Wilhoite fills in for Bowman. Wilhoite started two games last year in place of Willis and played considerably well.
Third-round pick Chris Borland also should be counted on at inside linebacker, with undrafted rookie Shayne Skov also making his presence known despite his underdog role, according to Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee.
On the outside, Pro Bowler linebacker Ahmad Brooks will resume his starting spot opposite Aldon Smith. Behind them, second-year linebacker Corey Lemonier showed upside as a pass-rusher in 2013 while veteran Dan Skuta also took significant reps.
Should Smith be suspended, rookie linebacker Aaron Lynch will likely be in line to take his place after being drafted in fifth round this year.
On Roster (11): Eric Reid, Antoine Bethea, Tramaine Brock, Chris Culliver, Chris Cook, Jimmie Ward, Dontae Johnson, Craig Dahl, C.J. Spillman, Darryl Morris, Kenneth Acker
Cut: Perrish Cox, James McCray, D.J. Campbell, Bubba Ventrone
Injured: Keith Reaser
Possibly the most uncertain group in San Francisco, the defensive backfield is actually held together by one of the most stable positions on the roster.
Safeties Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea are locked in as starters, with veteran backups Craig Dahl and C.J. Spillman bringing invaluable experience to both the defensive and special teams units. Special teamer Bubba Ventrone is also in the mix at safety, but he rarely contributes on defense.
Cornerback, however, is a different story.
It's safe to say that cornerbacks Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver are sure things for the final roster, projected as the starters on the outside by David Fucillo of Niners Nation. Backup corners Chris Cook and Darryl Morris also impressed in camp, according to Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee.
Rookies Dontae Johnson and Kenneth Acker should have a certain benefit of the doubt given their draft status, while fellow rookie Keith Reaser will miss the season with an ACL tear.
Morris also appears to be in play for time at nickel cornerback, per Barrows' report. Rookie defensive back Jimmie Ward has missed time with injuries after being selected in the first round in May's draft, while veteran Perrish Cox was previously released in the middle of last season.
On Roster (3): Phil Dawson, Andy Lee, Kevin McDermott
Cut: Colton Schmidt
Kicker Phil Dawson and punter Andy Lee are consummate professionals and two of the best at their respective positions. Meanwhile, long snapper Kevin McDermott is the only player on the roster with experience at his overlooked (though critical) position.
In reality, there just isn't much wiggle room for a bold prediction here. Sorry, Colton.
Quarterbacks: Colin Kaepernick, Blaine Gabbert
Running Backs: Frank Gore, Carlos Hyde, Marcus Lattimore, Kendall Hunter
Fullback: Bruce Miller
Wide Receivers: Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Stevie Johnson, Bruce Ellington, Quinton Patton, Kassim Osgood
Tight Ends: Vernon Davis, Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek
Tackles: Joe Staley, Anthony Davis, Jonathan Martin
Guards: Mike Iupati, Alex Boone, Joe Looney
Centers: Daniel Kilgore, Marcus Martin
Defensive Ends: Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, Tank Carradine, Tony Jerod-Eddie
Nose Tackles: Glenn Dorsey, Ian Williams, Quinton Dial
Inside Linebackers: Patrick Willis, Michael Wilhoite, Chris Borland, Shayne Skov
Outside Linebackers: Ahmad Brooks, Aldon Smith, Corey Lemonier, Dan Skuta
Cornerbacks: Tramaine Brock, Chris Culliver, Chris Cook, Jimmie Ward, Dontae Johnson, Darryl Morris, Kenneth Acker
Safeties: Eric Reid, Antoine Bethea, Craig Dahl, C.J. Spillman
Specialists: Phil Dawson, Andy Lee, Kevin McDermott
Injured: NaVorro Bowman (LB), Keith Reaser (CB), Trey Millard (FB), Brandon Thomas (OL)
All statistics and accolades according to Pro Football Reference, unless otherwise attributed. Tom Smeaton is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and can be found on Twitter by following @ByTomSmeaton.