Projecting the 49ers’ 2017 53-man roster; explaining surprise cuts

The 49ers are midway through the 2017 preseason, and essentially have one real evaluation game left before roster locks are rested in the exhibition finale against the Chargers. There is now enough game film and practice sessions in the books to gauge how this roster will look come Week 1.

Oscar Aparicio of Niners Nation, also known as Better Rivals, took the time to create a helpful chart outlining how many players have been kept on recent Kyle Shanahan teams.

While he wasn’t the head coach, it does provide context as to which position groups he values and which groups he feels require more bodies over 16 games. And given that Shanahan has been in situations all over the spectrum, from an elite offense in Atlanta to a desolate one in Cleveland, and Washington in between, there are also opportunities to identify comparable positional situations to aid in an accurate projection.

The chart includes three teams over four seasons (2013 Washington, 2014 Cleveland, and 2015-16 Atlanta). It also calculates averages from those seasons.

This will be used as a barometer for the following roster projection:

QB (3): Brian Hoyer, C.J. Beathard, Matt Barkley

RB (4): Carlos Hyde, Joe Williams, Matt Breida, Kyle Juszczyk

TE (3): George Kittle, Logan Paulsen, Cole Hikutini

OL (9): Joe Staley, Trent Brown, Zane Beadles, Joshua Garnett, Daniel Kilgore, Tim Barnes, Brandon Fusco, Garry Gilliam, Erik Magnuson

WR (7): Pierre Garçon, Marquise Goodwin, Aldrick Robinson, Jeremy Kerley, Trent Taylor, Kendrick Bourne, Victor Bolden Jr.

DL (6): DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, Solomon Thomas, Earl Mitchell, Tank Carradine, D.J. Jones

LB/EDGE (9): NaVorro Bowman, Reuben Foster, Ray-Ray Armstrong, Aaron Lynch, Elvis Dumervil, Ahmad Brooks, Eli Harold, Pita Tamoepenu, Dekoda Watson

CB (5): Rashard Robinson, Ahkello Witherspoon, Dontae Johnson, K’Waun Williams, Keith Reaser

S (4): Eric Reid, Jimmie Ward, Jaquiski Tartt, Lorenzo Jerome

K (1): Robbie Gould

P (1): Bradley Pinion

LS (1): Kyle Nelson

After scrubbing through this first crack at the 53, you may have questions and maybe even some fist-shaking, table-pounding comments. Which is fair enough. While the projection is not filled with hot takes, it does have some notable omissions.

Addressing the missing names:

-Vance McDonald is out for an undrafted rookie in Cole Hikutini, who didn’t show a whole lot in his first two preseason games. But this is part of the youth movement. Hikutini has upside as a pass-catching threat in this offense, which is what Shanahan wants, while McDonald has time and time again proven to be an unreliable receiver. With Logan Paulsen as the positional vet and primary blocker, the 49ers can afford to do this.

-Seven wide receivers may sound like a lot, but the 49ers don’t have a group that is elite at the top, so they need to challenge defenses with an array of different skill sets. Fortunately they were able to assemble a deep group made up of players that are all worthy of being on active rosters. Shanahan also kept seven wide receivers in 2014 with Atlanta.

-Quinton Dial not making it has more to do with the arrival of veteran Earl Mitchell, the upside of rookie D.J. Jones and the fifth-year breakthrough of Tank Carradine. It would be beneficial if the 49ers started working the phones now, trying to negotiate a trade instead of having to part ways with a quality player outright. But there is simply not enough room on this roster for all the bulky defensive line talent San Francisco has. And the deeper roster spots for the front seven may be better spent on developing pass rushers like Eli Harold and Pita Taumoepenu.

-Tim Hightower lost a fumble on his first carry as a 49er. In a backfield with young budding talent, there doesn't seem to be a need for a fourth running back (fifth if you include Juszczyk). Hightower was also out of football entirely from 2012-14. San Francisco shouldn't hesitate to roll with Hyde, Williams and Breida for the 2017 season.

-Late bloomers, surprising roster additions: OL Magnuson, WR Bolden Jr., LB Taumoepenu. All of the rookies had quality snaps and showed improvement, enough to where the 49ers might not want to risk signing them to the practice squad, especially with the Utah pass-rusher who was drafted. Meanwhile, Magnuson, an All-Big Ten tackle from Michigan, competed well at a weak position group. And Bolden provides an explosive open-field runner that can mainly function as a returner.

Media courtesy Better Rivals,, USA Today Sports Images

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