Updated 53-Man Roster Projections for San Francisco 49ers Post-Preseason Week 3

Grant Cohn@@grantcohnFeatured ColumnistAugust 31, 2015

Updated 53-Man Roster Projections for San Francisco 49ers Post-Preseason Week 3

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    Joe Mahoney/Associated Press

    The San Francisco 49ers have to make their first round of cuts by September 1. As many as 15 players will get released on September 1 as the Niners trim their roster from 90 players to 75.

    On September 3, the Niners will play their final preseason game against the San Diego Chargers. This will be the coaches’ final opportunity to evaluate players in live action.

    On September 5, the 49ers will make their final round of cuts and trim their roster from 75 to 53. Until then, here’s a post-preseason Week 3 projection for the composition of the 49ers’ 53-man roster.

Quarterbacks

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    Quarterbacks

    1. Colin Kaepernick

    2. Blaine Gabbert

    So far this preseason, Colin Kaepernick has attempted 13 passes and completed just five for 40 yards. His passer rating is 47.

    The 49ers’ offensive line, particularly the right side, can’t protect him, which is part of the reason Kaepernick has been so brutal. But he’s been brutal even when he’s had protection. According to Pro Football Focus Kaepernick is averaging 3.7 yards per attempt, and his passer rating is 65.2 when facing no pressure.

    Not good.

    On the other hand, his backup has been quite good. Blaine Gabbert has completed 23 of 28 pass attempts (82.1 percent) for 203 yards (7.3 per attempt) and one touchdown. His passer rating is 108.8.

    If Kaepernick continues to struggle during the regular season, the coaching staff might bench him and give Gabbert a chance to prove his preseason success wasn’t a fluke. Remember, Jim Tomsula is not wedded to Kaepernick the way Jim Harbaugh was.

Running Backs

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    Running Backs

    1. Carlos Hyde

    2. Reggie Bush

    3. Mike Davis

    4. Kendall Hunter

    5. Bruce Miller

    Carlos Hyde has been the only bright spot on the 49ers offense through three preseason games. He’s averaging 5.8 yards per rush, second-best among NFL starting running backs who have at least 10 preseason carries, according to Pro Football Focus.

    Unless the Niners’ passing game improves dramatically during the next few weeks, Hyde will have to be the focal point of the offense. I’m talking 25 carries per game and 400 carries for the season.

    As long as they Niners keep handing the ball to Hyde, they will have a chance to make the playoffs. Last season the Dallas Cowboys made the playoffs despite their 19th-ranked defense by handing the ball to running back DeMarco Murray a whopping 392 times.

Wide Receivers

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    Wide Receivers

    1. Anquan Boldin

    2. Torrey Smith

    3. Bruce Ellington

    4. Quinton Patton

    5. DeAndrew White

    The projection here is Bruce Ellington will be the 49ers’ No.3 receiver during the regular season.

    Quinton Patton was the No. 3 receiver Saturday night against the Denver Broncos, and he made one catch for eight yards. Ho-hum. He’s nothing special.

    Ellington missed minicamp, OTAs and most of training camp with various muscle pulls. Saturday night was his first game of the preseason. He played with Blaine Gabbert and the second-team offense.

    According to Pro Football Focus, Ellington received three targets and caught all three for 29 yards.

    It’s obvious he’s more dynamic than Patton. Ellington will be an important player for the offense if he stays healthy.

Tight Ends

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    Tight Ends

    1. Vernon Davis

    2. Vance McDonald

    3. Garrett Celek

    4. Blake Bell

    Vance McDonald, the Niners’ No. 2 tight end, injured his ankle during the first preseason game against the Houston Texans and hasn’t played since.

    In his absence, fourth-year tight end Garrett Celek has taken most of the reps as the first-team offense’s No. 2 tight end. And he has played well, making three catches for 51 yards—17 yards per catch.

    McDonald missed eight games last season due to a back issue, so he’s a bit of an injury risk. The Niners probably need a veteran who can fill in for McDonald in case he gets dinged up during the regular season.

    Celek probably will make the team for that reason.

Offensive Line

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    Offensive Line

    1. Joe Staley

    2. Alex Boone

    3. Marcus Martin

    4. Jordan Devey

    5. Erik Pears

    6. Joe Looney

    7. Brandon Thomas

    8. Ian Silberman

    9. Trent Brown

    When training camp began, Marcus Martin was the starting right guard. Now he’s the starting center. The original starting center, Joe Looney, was benched.

    After Looney’s benching, the starting right guard was rookie sixth-round pick Ian Silberman. Silberman started against the Broncos during Week 3 of the preseason and earned a minus-2.6 grade from Pro Football Focus. He was a liability, especially in pass protection.

    The Niners probably will bench Silberman and give veteran Jordan Devey a chance to start at right guard during Week 4 of the preseason. The Niners acquired Devey a few weeks ago in a trade with the New England Patriots for tight end Asante Cleveland.

    Devey made four starts at right guard for the Patriots last season. If he can’t hold his own for the Niners at right guard, they may be out of options.

Defensive Line

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Defensive Line

    1. Quinton Dial

    2. Ian Williams

    3. Glenn Dorsey

    4. Darnell Dockett

    5. Tank Carradine

    6. Arik Armstead

    After the first two preseason games, both nose tackle Mike Purcell and defensive end Lawrence Okoye seemed to have a good shot of making the 49ers’ final roster.

    Saturday against the Broncos, Purcell and Okoye were two of the worst players on the field. Pro Football Focus gave Okoye a grade of minus-1.1, and Purcell a grade of minus-2.9.

    That doesn’t mean they’re bad players—it just means they’re inconsistent young players who probably aren’t ready to contribute during the regular season. The Niners could keep them on the 53-man roster and develop them, but San Francisco has bigger needs at other positions.

Outside Linebackers

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    Outside Linebackers

    1. Ahmad Brooks

    2. Aaron Lynch

    3. Eli Harold

    4. Corey Lemonier

    Ahmad Brooks was charged with misdemeanor sexual battery on August 26. A woman accused him of groping her in a “sexual manner” while she was unconscious, according to Tracy Kaplan and Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News.

    The 49ers were practicing in Denver against the Broncos when Brooks got charged. The Niners immediately sent Brooks home to California, and his status on the team is unclear.

    There’s a chance the NFL will place Brooks on the commissioner’s exempt list until his case is resolved. In that event the Niners would have to pay Brooks, but he wouldn’t count against the 53-man roster. So they could sign someone else.

Inside Linebackers

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    Inside Linebackers

    1. NaVorro Bowman

    2. Michael Wilhoite

    3. Nick Moody

    4. Shayne Skov

    The 49ers signed free-agent inside linebacker Nick Bellore this offseason to be a special teams ace—that’s what he was for the New York Jets the past four seasons when he made 90 tackles on special teams and only three tackles on defense.

    The Niners can’t afford to make a special teams specialist the No. 4 inside linebacker. They need an actual inside linebacker for that role, someone who can fill in if two of the top three guys get injured.

    Former undrafted free-agent inside linebacker Shayne Skov seems like he could fill in. Through three preseason games he has earned a plus-4.6 grade from Pro Football Focus. He seems like a good run defender and an effective blitzer.

    And he also plays special teams. He gives the Niners exactly what they need from their No. 4 inside linebacker.

Safeties

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    Safeties

    1. Eric Reid

    2. Antoine Bethea

    3. Jaquiski Tartt

    4. Jimmie Ward

    5. L.J. McCray

    Third-string safety Jaquiski Tartt has a special role in the defense: dime back.

    On passing downs when the 49ers defense uses six defensive backs, Tartt will be the sixth defensive back. But he won’t line up in the defensive backfield. He’ll line up in the box next to inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman.

    Tartt (6'1", 221 lbs) is the team's biggest defensive back, and the only one suited to line up at inside linebacker in the dime defense.

    So if either Eric Reid or Antoine Bethea gets injured, Tartt would be the replacement safety in the base defense but not the sub-packages. He would move to dime back in the sub-packages, and either Jimmie Ward or L.J. McCray would come on the field to play safety.

Cornerbacks

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    Cornerbacks

    1. Tramaine Brock

    2. Kenneth Acker

    3. Keith Reaser

    4. Dontae Johnson

    5. Shareece Wright

    Tramaine Brock will be the No.1 cornerback, and cover the opposing team’s best wide receiver wherever he lines up—on the right, left or in the slot.

    This offseason the coaching staff has given each of the other four cornerbacks a chance to be the No. 2 cornerback. Shareece Wright got the first shot, flopped and now seems to have fallen to the bottom of the depth chart.

    Kenneth Acker is the opposite. He started at the bottom and seems to have risen to the top. Acker was the Niners’ No. 1 cornerback Saturday against the Broncos—Brock missed the game because of a pulled hamstring.

    Acker had to cover Denver’s No. 1 wide receiver, Demaryius Thomas, and Acker was terrific. He intercepted a pass intended for Thomas in the end zone.

Specialists

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    Specialists

    1. Phil Dawson (kicker)

    2. Bradley Pinion (punter)

    3. Kyle Nelson (long snapper)

    4. Jarryd Hayne (punt and kick returner)

    The 49ers list Jarryd Hayne as a running back, but I’m listed him as a specialist. He probably won’t play offense next season.

    But he should play plenty on special teams, returning both punts and kickoffs. He's clearly the team's best returner, and he seems good in coverage, too. He has done more than enough to make the final roster as a special teams specialist.

    There would be a bonus benefit if Hayne returns punts and kickoffs: Neither Reggie Bush nor Bruce Ellington would have to. The Niners are counting on Bush and Ellington to contribute to the offense next season, and the Niners need to keep them healthy. They shouldn’t play special teams unless they have to.

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