San Francisco 49ers: Immediate 53-Man Roster-Cut Predictions Post-Texans Game
One of the tough parts that head coach Jim Harbaugh, general manager Trent Baalke and the rest of the 49ers' coaching staff will have to deal with is the inevitable trimming of the roster down to 53 players by 4 p.m. ET on August 30.
San Francisco's roster, which at one time stood at 90 players, has since been whittled down to 75—the players cut are listed by Cam Inman of The San Jose Mercury News.
Many of these roster cuts make sense given that almost every player who was waived was a long shot to make the team. Some, like linebacker NaVorro Bowman and running back Marcus Lattimore, were obvious shoo-ins for the 49ers' injured lists.
Aside from veteran wideout David Reed, the rest of San Francisco's waived players are all eligible for the practice squad, per David Fucillo of Niners Nation.
But trimming the roster down to 53 players will be an even greater challenge for the coaching staff. A number of these cuts will be tough calls for Harbaugh and Co., and we are certain to see more than one player get cut who otherwise might have been a worthy addition.
Such is the nature of the NFL.
In this slideshow, we try to predict San Francisco's final wave of roster cuts as the team prepares for Week 1 on September 7.
Retained: Colin Kaepernick, Blaine Gabbert
Cut: Josh Johnson
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is the bona fide starter for San Francisco, so there shouldn't be any questions there.
But the backup duties create a little more headache when evaluating which quarterback the 49ers elect to keep now that the preseason is complete.
Offseason acquisition Blaine Gabbert was the favorite to back up Kaepernick during the 2014 season, but a pair of forgettable performances to kick off the preseason hindered his chances. As a result, speculation grew surrounding whether or not Gabbert would be the guy.
But the Nos. 3 and 4 quarterbacks—Josh Johnson and McLeod Bethel-Thompson, respectively—didn't exactly force the competition either.
Harbaugh on Blaine Gabbert, Josh Johnson and the #2 QB competition: "They're turning the ball over, all of them have...— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) August 18, 2014
During these 49ers' preseason struggles, however, Gabbert remained the No. 2 guy on the depth chart despite his struggles, per Eric Branch of SFGate.com.
With Bethel-Thompson waived, the competition fell to Gabbert and Johnson. Each was able to produce some momentum in the August 24 preseason game versus the San Diego Chargers.
Versus the Houston Texans, Gabbert took an obvious step back to his counterpart for the backup duties. He posted four completions on 11 attempts for 60 yards and a touchdown. In comparison, Johnson showed rhythm and completed 14 passes out of 17 attempts for 135 yards.
Johnson also posted three passing touchdowns against one interception.
Josh Johnson in preseason: 27 of 36, 259 yards, 3 TDs, INT, two lost fumbles. #49ers— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) August 29, 2014
As far as the backup duties are concerned, the safe money still lands on Gabbert—probably to many 49ers fans' chagrin. The 49ers agreed to take his $2-plus million salary for the 2014 season, which would be a lot for San Francisco to eat if it elected to release him.
Because of this, we can speculate the 49ers won't release Gabbert based on contractual obligations alone. Johnson's future is far less certain.
True, San Francisco may elect to keep three quarterbacks on the roster, but the likelihood of this is slim, according to David Fucillo of Niners Nation.
This leads us to believe that Johnson will be on his way out and Gabbert's job is safe.
Retained: Frank Gore, Carlos Hyde, LaMichael James, Bruce Miller
Cut: Alfonso Smith, Glenn Winston, Will Tukuafu
Let's get the easy stuff out of the way first. Frank Gore, Carlos Hyde and Bruce Miller are all but guaranteed roster spots in 2014. There isn't any argument to that.
With Miller back healthy after suffering an injured scapula last season, there is little reason for the 49ers to retain two fullbacks. That means Will Tukuafu is out.
Running back LaMichael James—once the target of trade speculation, per Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee—appears as if his future is more secure in the wake of San Francisco's depth issues at the position.
With Kendall Hunter (knee) lost for the season and second-year pro Marcus Lattimore starting another year on the non-football injury (NFI) list, the depth at running back has become alarmingly thin.
James missed a portion of the preseason with a dislocated elbow but has since returned and has shown no signs that the injury is bothering him. Given his role as San Francisco's primary return man, it is hard to fathom him being left off the roster at this point.
The 49ers did sign two other backs—Alfonso Smith and Glenn Winston—during training camp, but these transactions should merely be considered for preseason depth and little more.
With Jewel Hampton already waived, the next round of 49ers' cuts should include Smith, Winston and Tukuafu.
Winston might wind up being a practice-squad addition after the cuts, given his impressive preseason tenure with San Francisco.
All of these were depth players at best who were intended to give San Francisco's presumed roster locks some competition.
The fulfillment of this is now complete.
Retained: Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Stevie Johnson, Quinton Patton, Bruce Ellington, Brandon Lloyd
Cut: Kassim Osgood, L'Damian Washington, Lance Lewis
Assessing what happens with the 49ers' crowded situation at wide receiver presents a couple of problems as we try to determine the final layer of cuts prior to Week 1.
We already know this position is crowded. For starters, let's take a look at the likely candidates for San Francisco's receiving corps this season. That cast includes Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Stevie Johnson, Quinton Patton, Bruce Ellington and Brandon Lloyd.
All of those guys have legitimate reasons for being retained on an NFL roster. There are zero question marks surrounding Boldin, Crabtree and Patton. They'll be on the roster without a doubt.
Johnson may not necessarily be a guarantee, but according to Jim Harbaugh via 49ers.com, his chances of making the roster are likely.
Ellington is also a strong fit given his speed and the 49ers' need to have a player with this attribute. He may not get a lot of touches during his rookie year, but San Francisco wants to develop him.
That brings us to Lloyd.
The 33-year-old veteran sat out in 2013 but averaged more than 1,000 receiving yards the previous three seasons with Denver, St. Louis and New England, respectively. He is also known for his red-zone prowess, per Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area.
Depth receivers with experience are certainly nice to have, but adding Lloyd creates problems. First, retaining Lloyd will likely mean that 34-year-old special teams ace Kassim Osgood will be on the outside looking in. Osgood was one of the primary reasons behind the 49ers' special teams resurgence last year.
Additionally, Lloyd offers nothing on special teams—an aspect coaches ideally like to have with receivers down on the depth chart.
Still, signs are pointing to Lloyd being safe from cuts, as indicated by NFL.com's Ian Rapoport.
Sounds like #49ers WR Brandon Lloyd has a real good chance to make the team. He’s fitting in, which is just as good news. Bonded with Boldin— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 20, 2014
As stated though, this move would likely mean the end of Osgood's tenure with the 49ers. The team will be forced to look elsewhere for special teams contributors, and it does have some options.
Also cut will be wideouts L'Damian Washington and Lance Lewis.
Retained: Vernon Davis, Vance McDonald, Derek Carrier
Cut: Asante Cleveland
Unlike the wide receiver position, San Francisco should have a relatively easy time figuring out what to do with its depth at tight end.
We should again expect the 49ers to carry three tight ends on the roster as they have done in recent years. Vernon Davis will be the No. 1 starter, and he'll be complemented by second-year pro Vance McDonald.
McDonald is showing a vast improvement over his relatively lackluster NFL start a year ago. He scored the first touchdown at Levi's Stadium and is looking much more like a receiving threat off the line.
McDonald showed promise through the offseason and training camp, often making great catches but also offsetting those with baffling drops. Coach Jim Harbaugh countered that McDonald had a 'tremendous offseason and great camp.' Either way, he’s improved to the point where Harbaugh said: 'Everyone has a lot of confidence in Vance. He’s a go-to guy.'
With McDonald a lock for the No. 2 job, the third tight end position will fall upon third-year pro Derek Carrier.
Carrier has essentially secured the No. 3 tight end slot over incumbent Garrett Celek as the latter has been dealing with a back injury, per Eric Branch of SFGate.com. Celek will start the season on the PUP list, which means Carrier will get the nod.
With Celek injured and Kevin Greene waived, rookie undrafted free agent Asante Cleveland will be the only remaining tight end the 49ers have to make a decision on.
Cleveland recorded his first professional touchdown versus the Houston Texans to wrap up his preseason campaign, but this hardly guarantees him a roster spot.
The 6'5", 260-pound Miami Hurricanes project never caught more than eight passes in a season during his four-year collegiate career. His size alone may warrant consideration for the 49ers' practice squad if they elect to use him for future jumbo packages and whatnot, but it is hard to see him making the roster.
Retained: Joe Staley (LT), Mike Iupati (LG), Daniel Kilgore (C), Joe Looney (RG), Anthony Davis (RT), Marcus Martin (C), Jonathan Martin (T), Adam Snyder (G)
Cut: Al Netter (LG), Ryan Seymour (G), Carter Bykowski (T), Michael Philipp (T), Dillon Farrell (C)
The situation along the offensive line remains slightly in doubt as the 49ers head toward the regular season.
We can go ahead and lock down tackles Joe Staley and Anthony Davis for the starting jobs, as well as left guard Mike Iupati.
Alex Boone's ongoing holdout has forced third-year pro Joe Looney into a starting position, and barring any contractual changes with Boone, he'll be there for Week 1 against the Dallas Cowboys.
At center, Daniel Kilgore should get the nod to start the season in the wake of Jonathan Goodwin's departure via free agency. Kilgore had been in competition with USC rookie Marcus Martin, but Kilgore's experience and health were the obvious factors in him starting.
Combine that with Martin's kneecap injury during the third week of the preseason, and any doubts surrounding Kilgore's starting job have been put to rest.
The 49ers have yet to make a move with Martin, but he is expected to miss eight weeks, per Andrew Pentis of 49ers.com.
With Kilgore a lock at center, the competition opens up for depth behind San Francisco's O-line. UDFA Dillon Farrell might have been a long shot to make the roster given the depth along the line prior to camp, but Martin's injury could possibly be a saving grace.
His chances are remote, however, as veteran O-lineman Adam Snyder has practical NFL experience at center, per Pentis.
Offseason acquisition Jonathan Martin also looks good even if he struggled at times during the preseason. Martin has finished his preseason campaign strong, per Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area, which leads us to believe he'll be on the roster.
It is worth noting that Martin can play both tackle positions as well.
That leaves guards Al Netter and Ryan Seymour, along with tackles Carter Bykowski and Michael Philipp at the bottom of the O-line depth chart.
Netter and Philipp stand almost zero chance to make the roster, so we can easily predict those cuts.
Bykowski and Seymour have a slightly better chance, being listed on the roster bubble, per David Fucillo of Niners Nation.
Bykowski has had some promising moments this preseason, but given the depth at tackle, it is hard to envision him cracking the roster.
Perhaps the 49ers elect to keep Bykowski, Seymour or Farrell depending on how they handle roster spots and special teams additions, but these guys' prospects for making the team are remote at best.
Retained: Ray McDonald (DE), Ian Williams (DT), Justin Smith (DE), Tank Carradine (DE), Quinton Dial (DT), Demarcus Dobbs (DE), Tony Jerod-Eddie (DE)
Cut: Mike Purcell (DT), Lawrence Okoye (DL)
Defensive ends Justin Smith and Ray McDonald are obvious shoo-ins along the defensive line in 2014. Nose tackles Ian Williams and Quinton Dial are also locks—the only question being which player starts given Dial's strong preseason run.
The 49ers also have high hopes for Tank Carradine, who figures to provide the primary backup for both McDonald and Smith during the season.
This leaves linemen Demarcus Dobbs, Tony Jerod-Eddie, Mike Purcell and Lawrence Okoye fighting for no more than two roster spots on the 53-man roster.
Dobbs has three years of NFL experience under his belt, which gives him an obvious edge over two-year veteran Jerod-Eddie and second-year pros Purcell and Okoye. Dobbs has also contributed on special teams, which increases his value.
Before going down with a minor injury in San Francisco's exhibition opener on August 7 versus the Baltimore Ravens, Dobbs had shown some impressive moments during camp, per Andrew Pentis of 49ers.com.
Along with Dobbs, Jerod-Eddie also has special teams promise and experience to go along with it.
The 49ers could feasibly keep both players, as pointed out by David Fucillo of Niners Nation, so let's go ahead and make the prediction that they stay on the roster.
But what of Purcell and Okoye?
Purcell has been receiving a lot of the first-team reps at nose tackle to start the preseason but has since seen his snaps there drop off, especially given the play from second-year pro Quinton Dial.
First D-line looks like RE Demarcus Dobbs, NT Mike Purcell and LE Tony Jerod-Eddie.— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) August 7, 2014
As a result, it's hard to envision him making the roster.
Then there is Okoye.
From a fan's perspective, this author would love to see what Okoye could do on the field over a long stretch. His snaps have been limited, first by his relative lack of football knowledge and then by injury.
While there is no questioning his 6'6", 304-pound physique, it's hard to get around the fact that the British Olympian is playing only his second year of organized football.
Jim Harbaugh has praised Okoye's development, per Steve Corkran of The San Jose Mercury News, but progression and NFL readiness are obviously two different things.
No matter how one slices it, Okoye making the 53-man roster seems just too far out of reach. The 49ers would obviously like to move him to the practice squad for another year of development, but this would mean Okoye would have to clear waivers.
Are teams out there interested in Okoye's services? Possibly.
That's a risk San Francisco will have to take.
Retained: Ahmad Brooks, Michael Wilhoite, Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith, Corey Lemonier, Dan Skuta, Chris Borland, Aaron Lynch, Nick Moody
Cut: Shayne Skov, Chase Thomas
San Francisco's linebacker corps will try to retain the accolade of being one of the best groups in the NFL. This will have to be done in the wake of NaVorro Bowman's absence and the pending NFL suspension for Aldon Smith following his off-the-field issues.
With Bowman landing on the PUP list to start the season, the door opens for one of San Francisco's deeper linebackers to step up into the fray.
Three-year veteran Michael Wilhoite is assumed to get the nod to start for Bowman. Wilhoite started for Patrick Willis two games last season when Willis was dealing with an injury.
Rookie Chris Borland is also making a strong case for the starting job, per Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee, so his job appears safe as well.
Chris Borland has looked better each week after bad showing Week 1. Flashed on special teams and 2nd team D today.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) August 24, 2014
Behind Smith, Corey Lemonier and Dan Skuta figure to get the majority of reps. But rookie Aaron Lynch has been making a strong case for being added to the roster as well.
Prior to the preseason, one may have wondered whether or not Lynch would be a good addition to the 49ers. He comes with a reputation that drew questions surrounding his work ethic and habits—described further by Cam Inman of The San Jose Mercury News.
But Lynch has since put together a solid preseason, capitalized by his strong performance against the San Diego Chargers on August 24. During the game, he recorded three tackles, one sack and two batted passes at the line—one of which went for an interception.
No surprise: Aaron Lynch had the 49ers highest @PFF grade Sunday with a sack, two hurries and two passes batted down.— Chris Biderman (@ChrisBiderman) August 25, 2014
Lynch followed up the Chargers matchup with a strong performance against the Texans, posting three tackles and one pass defended in the process.
Any questions whether he should make the roster are put to rest.
Fellow linebacker Nick Moody is also getting some looks for both depth and on special teams, so it is likely that his roster spot is relatively safe.
That leaves two Stanford linebackers—veteran Chase Thomas and rookie Shayne Skov.
Thomas is well-traveled, but his accolades essentially end there. The 25-year-old has never made it off a practice squad, and it is hard to see the 49ers retaining him.
Skov may be a little more promising, but he remains buried on the depth chart. Special teams may be the only way Skov hopes to make the roster.
Inman describes this further:
Both Skov and Moody likely will rely on their special-teams prowess to make the roster, and Moody is the favorite to win, considering the 49ers thought enough of him last year to use their injured reserve/designated-for-return tag on him after a Week 1 hand fracture. Skov knows a roster spot is at stake not only on the 49ers but possibly with another suitor via the waiver wire.
Skov's chances are grim at best, but as Inman described, there remains a possibility that he thwarts Moody in some way or another. Most likely, Skov is selected for the practice squad.
Retained: Eric Reid (FS), Antoine Bethea (SS), Tramaine Brock (CB), Chris Culliver (CB), Jimmie Ward (DB), Craig Dahl (S), Dontae Johnson (CB), Chris Cook (CB), Darryl Morris (CB), Kenneth Acker (CB), C.J. Spillman (S)
Cut: Bubba Ventrone (S), Perrish Cox (CB), D.J. Campbell (S), LJ McCray (S)
The first five defensive backs on the list of retained players all make sense. These guys will comprise the first-team units in a standard nickel-based defense for the 49ers in 2014 barring anything unforeseen.
Competition certainly heats up thereafter, and the 49ers will have some very tough decisions to make when they formulate a crowded secondary.
Let's first evaluate why veterans Craig Dahl and Chris Cook remain on the roster. Dahl hasn't exactly had the best preseason so far, having shown weakness in coverage on multiple occasions. His performance against San Diego on August 24 was especially forgettable.
Craig Dahl beaten for the 2 TD;s in the last 2 games. On both plays, he didn't get inside help.— Kevin Lynch (@klynch49) August 24, 2014
But according to Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area, Dahl remains ahead of rookie defensive back Jimmie Ward as the team's primary backup safety, per defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. His abilities on special teams also cannot be overlooked.
Cook is another intriguing player. The 6'2", 200-pound cornerback struggled in his first four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, but the 49ers like his size and strength.
His lack of ball skills—described further by Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee—is an obvious concern, but Cook will likely enjoy playing in the press-based defense employed by Fangio and secondary coach Ed Donatell.
Darryl Morris gets a nod based on his speed alone. The 49ers don't want to lose that.
This author lists rookie Kenneth Acker as the final roster addition to San Francisco's defensive backfield. His performance against the Denver Broncos on August 17 was enough to warrant my attention.
San Francisco does not want a repeat of what happened last year with cornerback Marcus Cooper—a talented rookie who the team wanted to place on the practice squad but was snatched up by the Kansas City Chiefs.
Look for the 49ers to try and avoid that mistake again.
This means, of course, that another player out of the secondary will have to go. A few of them, to be precise.
D.J. Campbell has flashed some moments this preseason, but it is hard to see him being retained. The same could be said about rookie UDFA LJ McCray.
McCray was all over the field in San Francisco's final exhibition on Thursday versus Houston. He's vying for a roster spot even if it's distant. Perhaps the 49ers hope to stash him on the practice squad if he clears waivers.
The tougher cuts may include C.J. Spillman, Perrish Cox and Bubba Ventrone. All three of these players have shown their abilities on special teams, and the 49ers don't want to see much of a lapse in this unit.
We'll give Spillman a roster spot for now, given his prowess on special teams as a gunner.
But we essentially know what we'll get out of these three veterans. Their ceiling has been reached, and the fact they remain on the bubble indicates their chances of being retained are weak at best.
Retained: Phil Dawson (K), Andy Lee (P), Kevin McDermott (LS)
Cut: Kyle Nelson (LS)
The 49ers' moves should make sense across the board here.
Phil Dawson seems to have recovered from the two missed field goals at Levi's Stadium this preseason and punter Andy Lee looks as if he is in midseason form.
The only drama—if one wants to call it that—is which player earns the nod for long snapper.
Kevin McDermott is the favorite given how well he performed after taking over for the veteran Brian Jennings last season. Kyle Nelson has shown a little more versatility—having actually lined up as a tight end at times during the preseason.
Although the 49ers will likely reward to job to McDermott. They know his track record from a year before and there really isn't any reason to change things up now.
With the preseason complete, these final roster cuts are perhaps the last difficult challenge the 49ers face in formulating the final 53-man roster for the start of the 2014 season.
Tough choices are to be made, and it will be no easy task to determine which players make the final cut. Some of these released players have bona fide talents. A few may likely find jobs elsewhere on other rosters.
But the betterment of the team is at stake here. In the end, that is all that truly matters.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Be sure to check out his entire archive on 49ers news, insight and analysis.
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