The 49ers are winning games and have idling talent stashed for the future

December 26, 2017

The 49ers have $116 million in projected cap space and a top-seven draft pick in 2018, and with the current trajectory of the team, people are excited to see how they're going to spend it this coming offseason.

 

But what's forgotten are the players on the bench; the young talent on the game day inactive lists, the ones rehabbing on injured reserve and the developing players on the practice squad. 

 

And while they're not contributing yet, there is merit to the potential. The 49ers have had a litany rookies and undrafted players contributing under new head coach Kyle Shanahan and defensive coorindator Robert Saleh, and there's a fair chance there's more to come. 

 

[DESIMONE: Eyeing 2018 free agents 49ers can chase with league-high cap]

 

Below are intriguing players that haven’t been part of the 49ers’ win streak that could have futures with the team. More well-established players like Pierre Garçon and Arik Armstead, who played significant snaps under the new regime, are not included here. The list includes players on IR and the practice squad, as well as ones that haven't majorly contributed or appear to be question marks. 

 

As you'll see the, list is robust, and not every single player on IR and the practice squad are included, they are specific selections.

 

If nothing else, this list serves to show how much talent the 49ers potentially have idling, which could make for an ultra-competitive training camp next year. Here is a look at potential sleepers to make noise in 2018.

 

Aaron Burbridge, WR

Place: Injured reserve

Age: 24

Snapshot: Burbridge had a semi-solid four-year career with the Spartans, capped off by an 85-1258-7 senior season. The 6-foot-1 receiver wound up being selected by the 49ers in the sixth round of the 2016 draft, so fairly recently still. Burbridge saw limited action as a rookie, hauling in seven of just 16 targets for 88 receiving yards. He may not be in the team's plans, but he may be given a chance to compete in 2018.

 

Victor Bolden Jr., WR/R

Place: Injured reserve

Age: 22

Snapshot: Bolden accrued 2,590 yards and 10 total touchdowns as an all-purpose weapon over his four-year career with the Beavers. The 49ers picked him up as an undrafted free agent in 2017. While Bolden didn't finish the season, he showed enough in camp and in preseason as a returner/receiver to make the 53-man roster and even be among the actives on game day. Bolden averaged 20.8 YPR on kickoffs, ranking him 16th in the league. We'll see if Bolden picks up where he left off next year.

 

Cole Hikutini, TE

Place: Injured reserve

Age: 23

Snapshot: You may have noticed Hikutini catching passes from Lamar Jackson during his Heisman Trophy-winning campaign in 2016. That year, his last, Hikutini had 50 catches for 668 yards and eight touchdowns. The San Francisco native went on to sign with the 49ers as an undrafted free agent. A prospective weapon for Shanahan, Hikutini lists at 6-foot-4, 247 pounds – he has soft hands and can line up in multiple spots. He needs to continue to develop in all areas, but Hikutini is an interesting piece the 49ers have stashed.

 

Chanceller James, S

Place: Injured reserve

Age: 23

Snapshot: The 49ers' new scouting department appears to have an eye for safeties. This makes James a noteworthy player in waiting. He's a tall, hard-hitting safety that totaled 80 tackles  in his final season at Boise State. He also had three picks to go with. James could potentially compete with Jaquiski Tartt for the box safety role or even provide depth if the 49ers do not retain Eric Reid. 

 

Joshua Garnett, G

Place: Injured reserve

Age: 23

Snapshot: It's easy to overlook the fact that the 49ers have an Outland Trophy winner on the roster. Garnett was one of the better interior offensive line prospects available in recent drafts, and the 49ers snagged him at the end of the first round in 2016 after a trade up. The mauling guard has failed to get going, though, limited by injuries and the NFL learning curve. But word is Shanahan was a fan when scouting him for his scheme in Atlanta. If Garnett can come around and reach his potential, the 49ers could have an in-house upgrade at one of their biggest positions of need.

 

Erik Magnuson, OL

Place: Injured reserve

Age: 23

Snapshot: Offensive line is a top need for the 49ers this coming offseason. They could flush out the whole interior line and bring in their own handpicked guys. One that might already be in the building is last year's priority UDFA from Michigan. The 6-foot-6, 304-pound Magnuson saw action in four games as a rookie, starting two, and didn't look half bad. The former All-Big Ten lineman has a chance to develop into a swing tackle, center or even guard for the 49ers. 

 

Malcolm Smith, LB

Place: Injured reserve

Age: 28

Snapshot: People forget, the 49ers’ staff in training camp seemed to have a higher opinion of Malcolm Smith than NaVorro Bowman at this stage of their respective careers. Smith, unfortunately, suffered a torn pectoral muscle and was placed on IR before the season began. But, he’s on a five-year, $26.5 million deal, and as Robert Saleh’s guy, he should be a favorite to start alongside Reuben Foster next season. Smith’s presence could allow the 49ers to bypass linebacker in free agency and high in the draft.

 

Jaquiski Tartt, S

Place: Injured reserve

Age: 25

Snapshot: Tartt could be the reason the 49ers don’t re-sign veteran safety Eric Reid. At 6-foot-1, 221 pounds, he’s quite similar – basically a young thumper with less physical mileage than Reid that could be a solid box safety down the road. Tartt has 167 total tackles, 3.5 sacks, nine pass breakups and two interceptions in 39 career games with the 49ers. He’ll be entering his fourth season in 2018.

 

Jimmie Ward, DB

Place: Injured reserve

Age: 26

Snapshot: We still barely know Jimmie Ward, which can’t be a very good thing considering he was a first-round pick in 2014. The DB has missed at least six starts every season since entering the NFL, and has landed on IR twice, including this year. Before he got hurt, the 49ers played him at free safety, a positive switch from cornerback, which he had been playing since drafted. While Ward played well, in his absence the defense unearthed Adrian Colbert. It’ll be interesting to see if San Francisco has Ward compete with Colbert, or moves him back to CB or tries to ship him out for a draft pick.

 

Joe Williams, RB

Place: Injured reserve

Age: 24

Snapshot: Williams was an All-Pac-12 honorable mention and Foster Farms Bowl offensive MVP in his final season at Utah. He had monster games, too. In nine games as a senior, he broke 100 yards rushing six times; he broke 150 yards rushing five times, and even broke 300 yards rushing once. As a fourth-rounder the 49ers traded up for, Williams wasn’t the lock people thought he might be. He struggled with ball security, and wound up being shelved in favor of undrafted rookie Matt Breida. Still, Williams remains a top sleeper for 2018.

 

DeAndre Smelter, WR

Place: Practice squad

Age: 26

Snapshot: The first thing out of people’s mouths is going to be a reference to Trent Baalke’s scouting prowess when it comes to receiver, or the fact that Smelter is part of the former GM's notorious All-ACL team. And that may again come true in this case. But in the eyes of many, Smelter was a real talent once upon a time, and it’d be interesting to see if he gets a shot in camp next year. After all, the 49ers purged more than half the roster and made sure Smelter had one of the 10 spots on the practice squad.

 

Channing Stribling, CB

Place: Practice squad

Age: 23

Snapshot: Stribling is a 6-foot-2 press corner that made 18 starts for Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan defense. He finished his career on a high note, nabbing four interceptions and 12 pass breakups as a senior, earning All-Big Ten second team honors. Stribling wound up going undrafted in 2017, though. He bounced from the Browns to the Colts, but eventually landed and stuck with the 49ers’ practice squad. Banking on a little development, he could be a legit name to watch in training camp next season.

 

Jeremy McNichols, RB

Place: Active roster

Age: 22

Snapshot: McNichols had ridiculous production at Boise State, posting 3,980 yards from scrimmage and 53 total touchdowns over his last two seasons. But the fifth-rounder didn’t perform well enough to make the Bucs 53-man roster. With a chip on his shoulder, McNichols declined to join Tampa’s practice squad, as documented by Hard Knocks, and instead signed with the 49ers. He was activated from the team’s practice squad in late November, playing a role on special teams, but has received no carries as of yet.

 

 

 

Media courtesy SI, AP Images, UPI, Getty Images, The Michigan Daily 

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