49ers Players Who Can Climb Depth Chart with Impressive Camp

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IJuly 5, 2021

49ers Players Who Can Climb Depth Chart with Impressive Camp

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    The road to a potential bounce-back season for the San Francisco 49ers begins on July 27. That's when the team holds its first practice of training camp in Santa Clara, California, as it starts to prepare for the 2021 campaign.

    After going 6-10 last year, the 49ers made some changes to their roster this offseason, including bringing in a fresh wave of young talent in the draft. They're going to be building around some new players, hoping they can get back to having success following a disappointing 2020.

    While training camp is an opportunity to get a first look at new players, it's also a time for returning players to get back in the swing of things—and some of them will need to secure a spot on the roster.

    With training camp approaching, here's a look at several San Francisco players to watch, as they could potentially climb the team's depth chart with impressive showings.

Jauan Jennings, WR

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk are likely to be atop the 49ers depth chart at wide receiver. But beyond that, there will be numerous receivers who are battling for playing time. A starting role will be up for grabs, as well as important reserve spots for players who will provide valuable depth.

    Among that group will be Jennings, who didn't get much of an opportunity to prove himself as a rookie last year after getting taken in the seventh round of the 2020 NFL draft. He started on the practice squad before missing substantial time because of a hamstring injury.

    Still, many of the receivers who Jennings will be competing with didn't get a ton of action last year, either. That includes veteran Mohamed Sanu, who had only one reception for the 49ers before getting released. Now, Sanu is back battling with Jennings and others for time.

    Jennings, who is 6'3" and 215 pounds, has the size and skills to potentially emerge as a strong receiving option in the 49ers passing game. There will be plenty of opportunities for the taking, too. So if he can impress in camp and the preseason, there's no reason he couldn't climb up the depth chart, potentially all the way to the No. 3 spot.

Arden Key, EDGE

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    Josie Lepe/Associated Press

    Key has yet to live up to the lofty expectations that many had for him when he entered the NFL in 2018. He didn't produce much during his three seasons with the Las Vegas Raiders, but he joined the 49ers this offseason looking for a fresh start with a new team.

    The potential is still there for Key to be a strong pass rusher. He's only 25 with 37 games of pro experience following his solid collegiate career at LSU. And while Key isn't likely to start, he needs to have a strong preseason to prove that he deserves a spot on San Francisco's roster.

    The 49ers have lost some depth in the pass rush after Jordan Willis was suspended six games for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances. That moves Key up the depth chart a bit, and he could keep climbing if he plays well.

    Key was a low-risk signing for San Francisco, and he could be a steal if he shows that he's capable of putting the pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Keep an eye on the 6'5" pass rusher to be one of the surprises of the preseason as he may carve out a role on the 49ers defense.

Dontae Johnson, CB

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Johnson isn't an exciting young prospect, as the 29-year-old enters the 2021 season (his seventh in the NFL) having already proved what type of player he can be. Still, it was an important move made by San Francisco when it decided to re-sign the veteran cornerback this offseason.

    It's always wise to have depth in the secondary, and if any cornerbacks get injured during the preseason, Johnson is going to have an opportunity to move into a starting role. K'Waun Williams missed time last season with a sprained ankle and Jason Verrett has had injury concerns in the past, so the 49ers need to have contingency plans.

    Johnson has made 25 starts for San Francisco in his career, including three last year, and he's proved to be a key role player. He had 23 tackles, one sack and three pass deflections in 2020, and he notched a pair of interceptions earlier in his career with the 49ers.

    While Johnson may not be a star corner, he could move up the depth chart as an experienced veteran who is comfortable in defense and may keep improving while battling with youngsters for playing time. If he fares well in camp, he should only earn himself more opportunities for 2021.

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