Anavarathan: Predicting the 49ers' initial 53-man roster ahead of Saturday's cut down
In an lead up to the season that doesn't feature any preseason games or televised practices, every ounce of information has been invaluable and coaching staffs are working extra hard to protect secrets within their facilities.
The 49ers -- along with 31 other teams -- will attempt go ahead and trim their rosters down from 80 to 53 on Saturday, as they prepare for Week 1 of the regular season the following weekend.
San Francisco will have four players start out on various injury lists -- wide receivers Richie James Jr. and J.J. Nelson will begin the year on Injured Reserve (IR) list, while center Weston Richburg and defensive lineman Jullian Taylor will start the year on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list.
We'll go position group by position group and I will list out my predictions for each group. Keep in mind, this is what I think will happen, not what I think should happen.
Quarterbacks (3): Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Mullens, C.J. Beathard
The only real controversy here is former third-round pick C.J. Beathard. While I would have released him two seasons ago, in a year where COVID-19 hangs over the NFL, more quarterbacks who know the system will be important in a worst-case scenario. Hence, Beathard remains on the roster for one more season.
Running Backs (5): Kyle Juszczyk, Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, Jerick McKinnon, Jeff Wilson Jr.
Kyle Shanahan has always carried four running backs and there's no argument for cutting Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman and Jerick McKinnon. The only roster bubble choice comes down to Jeff Wilson Jr vs. JaMycal Hasty.
I think the 49ers choose the veteran Wilson Jr. over the rookie Hasty, who they should be able to stash on an expanded practice squad. The experience that Wilson Jr. has shown previously in red-zone situations and when other running backs have been hurt also gives him an edge this season.
Wide Receivers (6): Deebo Samuel, Dante Pettis, Trent Taylor, Brandon Aiyuk, Kendrick Bourne, Tavon Austin
Given the injury situation with the receivers, I think the 49ers choose the 10 best players between the tight ends and wide receivers and are not necessarily concerned with trying to keep seven receivers.
I imagine that Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Kendrick Bourne, Trent Taylor and Dante Pettis are locks to make the roster. Given his return abilities and the injury to J.J. Nelson, I think Tavon Austin manages to squeak onto the roster, but doesn't find any meaningful offensive snaps.
I debated Jauan Jennings and Shawn Poindexter, but I don't think either of them have flashed enough to warrant making the 53-man roster and can easily be stashed on the practice squad.
Tight Ends (4): George Kittle, Jordan Reed, Charlie Woerner, Ross Dwelley
George Kittle and Jordan Reed are no-brainers and I think rookie Charlie Woerner has earned himself a spot given his blocking abilities.
Ross Dwelley is neither the pass-catcher that Reed is nor the blocker that Woerner is, but I chose the most useful player out of Jennings, Poindexter and Dwelley and went with the former un-drafted free agent.
I also thought if Dwelley were to be released, he would be picked up by another team, so the 49ers should either stash him on the IR list with his foot injury or keep him on the 53-man roster.
Offensive Linemen (8): Trent Williams, Justin Skule, Laken Tomlinson, Ben Garland, Dan Brunskill, Tom Compton, Colton McKivitz, Mike McGlinchey
The 49ers have normally kept eight offensive lineman and I imagine that they do the same this year. With Richburg on IR, the starting five up front should be: Trent Williams, Laken Tomlinson, Ben Garland, Dan Brunskill and Mike McGlinchey from left to right.
Justin Skule will play the role of swing tackle, while Tom Compton and Colton McKivitz will provided much-needed depth at the guard spots. I would imagine that Hroniss Grasu and Dakoda Shepley will be prime practice-squad candidates given the injury situation to Garland.
Defensive Linemen (10): Dee Ford, Ronald Blair III, Javon Kinlaw, Solomon Thomas, Kevin Givens, D.J. Jones, Kentavius Street, Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead and Kerry Hyder
Kris Kocurek's group will be the driving force of this defensive group. The only surprise additions should be training camp stars Kevin Givens and Kentavius Street, who have both come on strong as interior rushers. Kerry Hyder has received a lot of praise from coordinator Robert Saleh.
The only player on the bubble was Darrion Daniels, but given the rise of Street, Givens and Thomas, the last thing they needed was another interior defensive lineman. Hopefully, Daniels finds his way back onto the practice squad.
Linebacker (5): Kwon Alexander, Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw, Azeez Al-Shaair and Mark Nzeocha
No surprises here except for Mark Nzeocha, who should earn the nod over Joe Walker due to his special teams abilities. Saleh made a huge point about special teams coordinator Richard Hightower having an equal say in the final roster decisions and I'd imagine Hightower goes to bat for Nzeocha over Walker.
Cornerbacks (5): Richard Sherman, Jason Verrett, Emmanuel Moseley, K'Waun Williams, Ahkello Witherspoon
With K'Waun Williams returning to practice this week, that made corner Jamar Taylor expendable, as he's not versatile enough to play inside and outside in this defense. I'd imagine Richard Sherman and Emmanuel Moseley are starters, with Jason Verrett competing for the spot with Moseley.
If Williams does go down, the 49ers' defense has the versatility with Verrett and Moseley having the ability to play nickel corner.
Safety (4): Jimmie Ward, Tarvarius Moore, Jaquiski Tartt and Marcell Harris
Jimmie Ward, Tarvarius Moore and Jaquiski Tartt are locks to make the 53-man roster. Marcell Harris will compete with Johnathan Cyprien for the backup strong safety spot.
When it comes to backups, I typically choose the player with higher upside and is on a cheaper contract. Given that, I give the edge to Harris over Cyprien, despite the turnovers that the former Jaguar has created over the past week in training camp.
Special Teams (3): Robbie Gould, Mitch Wishnowsky and Kyle Nelson
No doubt here. Let's just hope there's no Chase McLaughlin sighting in 2020.