The 2017 49ers are being carefully shaped, albeit by first-timers in head coach Kyle Shanahan and architect John Lynch. But together, and with the support of their staff, the organization assembled a new-look roster by tapping the trade market, the draft and free agency, leaving no stone unturned. And as a result, they manifested a fair amount of competition across multiple position groups.
That could lead to several tough decisions, and a handful of name players not making the 53-man roster.
Tim Hightower, RB
When approaching this subject, you have to start by asking yourself, “Are 100% of 'Shanahan guys' promised a roster spot?” It's largely been assumed that they will. But there were a number of players added that the head coach worked with previously, and many are now in competitive situations that weren’t fully developed until after the draft, particularly at wide receiver and running back.
With a leaner and hungry feature back in Carlos Hyde leading the charge, and very capable-looking change-of-pace backups in Joe Williams and Matt Breida, there already may be enough players to handle the load. H-back Kyle Juszczyk is also going to have a substantial role. Due to his missed time and the upside of the younger, newer additions, it’s possible Hightower is the odd man out.
Matt Barkley, QB
Brian Hoyer is clearly the entrenched starter, but the backup role looks wide open. Barkley was unspectacular against Kansas City to say the least, looking inconsistent with both his timing and accuracy. The offense looked stuck at times and generally vulnerable with him at the wheel.
Meanwhile, rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard, handpicked by Shanahan in the third round of his first-ever NFL draft as a head coach, looked more confident and much more effective. In his debut, the passer from Iowa went 7-of-11 for 101 yards, two touchdowns, a two-point conversion and no picks, while leading a comeback on the road. Heading into the second preseason game, the No. 2 job doesn’t look out of reach if Beathard continues to perform.
Vance McDonald, TE
Shanahan brought in three handpicked tight ends this year; two rookies and a veteran he once worked with in Logan Paulsen. That puts all of the other tight ends from the previous regime on notice, most prominently McDonald. The team also shopped the 2013 second-round pick around already, but to no avail. That much at least means they’re imagining life without him. And even with rookie and TE1 favorite George Kittle being sidelined, McDonald has been unable to grab the attention of coaches or even the quarterbacks, remaining invisible in this offense.
Ronald Blair, DL
Blair has played well, but his roster spot may be in danger due to the depth of a defensive line group that is extremely talented at the top. There is also a new starting veteran nose tackle in town in Earl Mitchell, who came over from a tough Dolphins line. Once a 4-3 end at Florida State and a first-round talent, Tank Carradine appears to be finding himself in Year 5. There is also an interesting rookie project in Ole Miss clogger D.J. Jones. That’s six defensive linemen right there. And if you count in edge defenders Aaron Lynch and Elvis Dumveril, where does Blair even fit in?
Will Redmond, CB
The reason this counts as a surprise cut is because Redmond was a third-round pick, No. 68 overall, in the 2016 draft. That was only a year ago. But he was a pick from the past regime, the third on this list, which makes him expendable – especially since he hasn’t looked effective in camp or in preseason. Of the carryover depth corners, it’s been Keith Reaser that has looked like the better player. And Reaser has the versatility to play on the boundary, as well as in the nickel, unlike Redmond, who is primarily competing for the second nickel job behind veteran K’Wuan Williams.
Media courtesy AP, Press Democrat, USA Today Sports Images, ESPN