San Francisco 49ers: Predicting the 75-Man Roster CutsAugust 28, 2015
The deadline for the cuts to a 75-man roster is September 1, so Saturday’s game against Denver will be the last chance for a number of San Francisco 49ers to make an in-game impression before they get sent on their way.
While people who are in danger at the 75-man limit aren’t usually threats to make the team, getting one more game could be key for picking up a practice-squad role, be it with the 49ers or another team around the league.
That means, for about two-dozen players, Saturday’s game is an audition for one final chance to make an impression. The starters generally monopolize playing time during the third preseason game but sit out the fourth one entirely. Therefore, players at the bottom of the roster are trying to dodge the next round of cuts in order to get close to a full game to audition for the league at large.
The 49ers have 89 men on their active roster at the moment, meaning they’ll have to make 14 roster moves to meet the mandated limit.
Let’s go position by position and try to guess who will get the axe. Which players will be playing their last game of 2015 in a 49ers uniform?
Dylan Thompson avoids the axe as the 49ers continue to evaluate him for a potential practice-squad spot—as well as just having another arm for the fourth preseason game. Presumably, Blaine Gabbert will start against San Diego, but even if the 49ers have already decided not to go with Thompson in the future, they’ll need a backup in case Gabbert gets hurt mid-game. They’re certainly not going to play Colin Kaepernick much in that one.
Thompson’s 7-for-12 line for 52 yards and an interception isn't a particularly inspiring stat, but he’ll keep his job for another week.
Running Backs: Kendall Gaskins
Kendall Gaskins has been the worst of the 49ers running backs so far this preseason. Against mostly fourth-string competition, he’s averaged just 2.1 yards per carry. Despite having more rushing attempts than any other running back, he has fewer yards than anyone but Kendall Hunter, who hasn’t played yet.
Expect to see plenty of Hunter over the last two weeks of preseason as the 49ers try to decide between him and Jarryd Hayne for the final running back roster slot. Similarly, Trey Millard, who has yet to make his offensive debut, gets another week to see if he’s worth placing in the practice-squad.
Wide Receivers: DeAndre Smelter, Mario Hull, Nigel King and DiAndre Campbell
First things first: DeAndre Smelter is not being cut—he’s simply being moved from the active NFI list to the reserve one. That would guarantee he misses at least six weeks, but considering he’s probably going to miss the entire season, that’s fine. He’s still recovering from ACL surgery he underwent in December, and there’s no need to rush him back into action.
None of the 49ers receivers have really stood out so far this preseason, as the team only has 147 passing yards. Therefore, it’s hard to really judge the position, though we can probably all agree Quinton Patton shouldn’t be running the wrong way. It’s still a good position to cut down, as there are 13 receivers on the active roster and they’re not going to keep more than six, even including the suspended Jerome Simpson.
Mario Hull, Nigel King and DiAndre Campbell all have zero receptions so far. King’s only received five offensive snaps, per Pro Football Focus, and Hull has just 13. They’re clearly at the bottom of the roster and seem like fine fodder to move.
Cutting Campbell is going a bit more out on a limb. The undrafted free agent out of Washington was doing well early on in the offseason, according to the Sacramento Bee's Matt Barrows and others. However, he hasn’t really shown anything in either of the first two games. He’s been on the field for 27 snaps, including 12 pass attempts, but he hasn’t even had the ball thrown his way yet. Nor has he had any snaps on special teams.
Unless he has a big day against Denver, he’s gone as well. That means players such as Chuck Jacobs, Dres Anderson, Issac Blakeney and DeAndrew White get a one-week reprieve.
Tight Ends: Xavier Grimble
The 49ers have already been cutting down their tight ends recently, trading away Asante Cleveland and Derek Carrier. That brings them down from eight to a more manageable six tight ends. They may opt to keep all of them around for a week if Vance McDonald’s ankle injury continues to be an issue. That’s what led to the cutting of Campbell rather than Busta Anderson, who seems to be fighting for a practice-squad spot, if that. Xavier Grimble has not made any sort of impact yet, and so he gets the axe.
Offensive Line: Daniel Kilgore and Justin Renfrow
Daniel Kilgore is not being released but is being moved to the PUP list. He’s still recovering from last year’s lower-leg injury and probably won’t be back soon enough to make it worth using a roster spot on him for the first six weeks. Moving him to the inactive PUP list gives the 49ers another roster spot to work with.
Justin Renfrow is not the worst-graded 49ers offensive lineman so far this preseason—both Patrick Miller and Erik Pears grade out lower, according to Pro Football Focus—but he is at the bottom of the roster, hasn’t been used very much and gave up a sack against Dallas.
Other names in danger here could be Miller, Sean Hooey, Andrew Tiller, Ian Silberman and Jordan Devey, so if the 49ers decide to keep one of their skill position players elsewhere, this could be a position to make cuts at.
Still, with starters resting in Game 4, you want a significant number of offensive linemen available for that matchup, meaning they could just keep some bottom-of-the-roster fodder around for depth.
Defensive Line: Kaleb Ramsey
I was expecting this to be Garrison Smith when looking at the original roster, but he’s done such a good job in the first two preseason games he's likely bought himself another week. Last year’s seventh-round pick, Kaleb Ramsey missed all of last season on PUP and hasn’t looked thrilling this preseason. As such, Smith passes and replaces him. That’s the only move here, which gives another week for the Mike Purcell-Tony Jerod-Eddie debate and another week to evaluate Lawrence Okoye’s development.
Linebackers: Steve Beauharnais and Desmond Bishop
There’s some talk that the 49ers could release Ahmad Brooks because of his misdemeanor sexual assault charge, reported by ESPN. Based on how the team reacted to the Ray McDonald, Bruce Miller and Aldon Smith situations, I think they will wait for a week before taking any action there. That also indirectly saves the rest of the outside linebackers because they’ll need bodies for the field with Brooks away from the team. A reprieve, then, for Shawn Lemon.
Desmond Bishop requires surgery on his thumb and was borderline to make the roster anyway. An injury settlement seems to be the most logical thing to do here. Joining him on the way out is Steve Beauharnais, who has been one of the last linebackers in consistently. Shayne Skov gets another week of tons of snaps to see if he’s worth putting on the practice squad or stealing the last spot on the 53-man roster.
Defensive Backs: Mylan Hicks and Jermaine Whitehead
The cornerback battle is still raging for the 49ers, but Mylan Hicks is pretty clearly in last place—he’s received half as many snaps as any other defensive back, per PFF, and he didn’t play at all on defense against Dallas. Safety is pretty clear—Antoine Bethea and Eric Reid start, Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt are the highly picked rookies and either Craig Dahl or L.J. McCray stays because of special teams. That leaves Jermaine Whitehead, who actually hasn’t been that bad, as the odd man out.
Special Teams: Corey Acosta
The 49ers have two kickers. The 49ers do not need two kickers. Phil Dawson will be the kicker in the regular season. Corey Acosta will not.
Again, a good performance against Denver could save any of these names for another week, and we’ll know soon enough which players made the grade and which will stay home.
The aforementioned 14 names are the ones I think are on the outside looking in at the moment and need to upset the status quo on Saturday to survive.
Bryan Knowles is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Follow him @BryKno on Twitter.