San Francisco 49ers' Biggest Preseason Disappointments So Far
Yesterday, we looked at some of the San Francisco 49ers who had done a better than expected job in the preseason—players who had increased their odds to make the practice squad, main roster or starting lineup.
However, when a team is 1-2, and two of those losses were blowouts, players not living up to expectations are sure to be at least partly responsible for the squad's poor play. Whether it’s offseason rust from expected starters, rookies failing to live up to the hype or backups showing why they deserve to be released, there have been some performances this preseason that haven’t cut the proverbial mustard.
Some of these players were victims of the cut to 75 players on Tuesday, and more might be going the way of the dodo come the 53-man cuts on Aug. 30. Others are guaranteed a roster spot, but need to pick up the pace once the regular season starts.
Again, we’re just looking at the performance in the three preseason games here—players might look fantastic in practice, but if they can’t bring that onto the field, it’s meaningless.
Here are five of the players and positions that I’ve been less than impressed with over the first three preseason games.
I debated just calling out the backups here, but considering the Colin Kaepernick-led offense has yet to score a touchdown, I think it’s fair enough to call the entire position something of a disappointment.
Kaepernick, however, has looked better than the three players vying to be his backup—Blaine Gabbert, Josh Johnson and McLeod Bethel-Thompson. While Gabbert’s performance against San Diego was much improved over his first two preseason games with his new team, the overall perception of him has still been an awful one.
Gabbert’s 18-of-36 for 126 yards with two interceptions over the three games—a quarterback rating of under 50. Bethel-Thompson was worse, going 11-of-18 for 113 yards and two interceptions. Josh Johnson’s stats were the best of the three, at 13-of-20 for 126 yards, but that hides the two fumbles he’s been charged with. None of these QBs have looked particularly good.
There’s a silver lining here—Gabbert was quite efficient against San Diego and threw the first touchdown pass in Levi’s Stadium. If he can keep that up against the Houston Texans on Thursday, his role as a backup quarterback will feel a little safer. No such luck for Bethel-Thompson, however; he’s been released. He might get picked up for the practice squad in a week, but for now, he’s on the street.
Tony Jerod-Eddie, DE
I’ve got high hopes for Jerod-Eddie, and I’m counting on his relatively poor preseason play to be an anomaly, the result of playing against starters while Justin Smith and Ray McDonald missed time.
Jerod-Eddie has the lowest Pro Football Focus grade on the team at minus-6.7 (subscription required); he’s only generated one quarterback hurry in 57 snaps. This is a far cry from what he was able to put up last season, when he was in the backfield every 20 snaps or so. PFF charted him with one sack, three quarterback hits and 17 hurries last year in mostly reserve action, and I was expecting a lot of production from him this preseason.
I’m going to chalk up the lack of production to the fact that Jerod-Eddie was seeing limited time against starting lineups this preseason. However, I think Tank Carradine has passed him in the defensive end rotation; I’ve been more impressed by Carradine’s brute strength. Carradine racked up a sack against Baltimore and has generally been in the opposing team's offensive backfield more often.
Jerod-Eddie’s still a good player, and I think his PFF grade is a bit harsh. However, I was expecting more out of the defensive line this preseason, so Jerod-Eddie takes the blame here.
C.J. Spillman, S
If Spillman makes the team at this point, and he likely will, it will be for his special teams play and not his play in the secondary. Spillman’s been getting the nod as a starter on the kick return team, so that probably has him earmarked for a spot on the 53-man roster.
In the secondary, however, his play has been less inspiring.
Per David Fucillo of Niners Nation, Vic Fangio spoke about his reserve safeties on Wednesday. He said that the immediate replacement for an injured safety would be Craig Dahl, while Jimmie Ward would be the option if it was more of a long-term injury. That implies that Dahl has moved past Spillman on the depth chart, which harms the latter's value.
After all, how many safeties can the 49ers keep?
Pro Football Focus (subscription required) has counted four missed by Spillman this preseason, tops on the team. He’s also given up a completion on each of the four times a receiver was targeted in his coverage area, meaning he’s allowing a completion about once every 13.5 plays in coverage. That’s not horrible, but that’s almost as many as he gave up for the entire 2013 regular season.
Spillman’s been solid on special teams coverage, but is that enough to earn him a spot on the final roster? He’d be the fifth safety, after Eric Reid, Antoine Bethea, Dahl and Ward. Time will tell if he’s played his way off the final roster.
Dillon Farrell, C
Here’s a bad sign—with Marcus Martin down and Daniel Kilgore moving up to the starting lineup, the 49ers have at least a temporary hole at backup center. Farrell played there extensively against Baltimore, and he mostly played left guard against Denver and San Diego.
The door is open for the undrafted free agent from New Mexico to earn a roster spot, right?
Pro Football Focus held Farrell accountable for three quarterback hurries and one quarterback hit. He has fallen behind on the depth chart two of the guys mentioned yesterday, Carter Bykowski and Al Netter. He’s also facing tough competition from Ryan Seymour and veteran Adam Snyder to secure some role, be it on the final roster or the team's practice squad.
Farrell hasn’t shown the power or strength you want from an interior lineman, and my eye test corresponds to PFF’s general numbers—to me, Farrell has looked the worst of all of the reserve linemen.
With Marcus Martin down and Alex Boone holding out, there were backup spots on the offensive line to be had. Barring a terrific showing against Houston, however, I think Farrell’s out. I’d expect Seymour or Snyder to stick on the roster as the backup center until Martin returns.
Farrell might benefit from a year or two on the Niners practice squad, as he's probably safe from being snatched up by another NFL team.
Jewel Hampton, RB
With Marcus Lattimore still on the non-football injury list, Kendall Hunter suffering a season-ending torn ACL and LaMichael James missing time with a dislocated elbow, the door was wide open for two-year practice squad veteran Jewel Hampton to make a splash—and the 53-man roster.
The results haven’t been pretty. Hampton’s carried the ball 16 times for 40 yards this preseason, an average of only 2.5 yards per carry. He has five receptions on eight targets for 21 yards. The other three targets were catchable; Hampton simply dropped them.
Hampton also hasn’t been very good in pass protection. He’s the one who blew the block leading to Baltimore's sack of Blaine Gabbert. He’s been flailing in all three aspects of the game.
This is why Hampton was waived with the 75-man cuts. The door was wide open for him to earn a spot on the final roster, but he failed to do so. He didn’t even appear in the San Diego game. Were the 49ers waiting so he’d remain available for practice squad duty, or was he just that bad?
I’m leaning toward the latter.
Bryan Knowles is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Follow him @BryKno on Twitter.