SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

49ers 2023 53-man roster projection: Who makes it to Week 1?

Aug 29, 2023, 8:00 AM | Updated: 9:38 am

San Francisco 49ers offensive tackle Spencer Burford (74) takes part in a drill during the team's O...

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After weeks of training camp practices and preseason contests for the 49ers, it all comes down to this: 53-man roster cutdown day.

The San Francisco 49ers have until Tuesday afternoon to cut down a roster of 90 players to 53, a drastic move that is hard on many. The Red & Gold have already begun the process, releasing five players on Sunday. But with many moves still to be made, a lot can happen over the next week or so.

So without further ado, here’s how the 53-man roster for the 49ers could play out.

Quarterback

In: Brock Purdy, Sam Darnold

On the fringe: Brandon Allen

Out: None (Probably)

A position that has seemingly turned over a thousand times for the 49ers now seems to have a foundation at least.

Second-year sensation Brock Purdy is fully cleared from UCL surgery in March. The quarterback has looked poised in his return to football, going a combined 138 yards passing with one rushing score in the preseason.

Despite being on a pitch count for his arm entering Week 1, Purdy has shown enough to be the unanimous QB1.

After stepping into the spotlight last November, the 49ers expect big things from the Iowa State alum in his first full NFL season. That’s not to say he won’t make mistakes, nobody’s perfect. But if he can continue on his trajectory pre-injury, San Francisco should be in business on offense.

Backing Purdy up will be Sam Darnold, now the clear-cut No.2 with Trey Lance traded to Dallas.

The USC alum has learned Kyle Shanahan’s offense quickly, enough to convince the coaching staff that he is ready to fill in if need be. The veteran has started 55 career NFL games, throwing over 11,700 yards and 60 touchdowns.

Brandon Allen is the only fringe player here, with the 49ers needing to figure out how to fit him on the roster.

The former Cincinnati Bengal will likely be the third “emergency QB” this season. That will allow the team add an additional player on gamedays, only using Allen as a last resort.

Could the 49ers look for another signal-caller on the market as well? I hear Colt McCoy needs a new home.

Running Back

In: Christian McCaffrey, Kyle Juszczyk, Elijah Mitchell, Jordan Mason, Ty Davis-Price

On the fringe: Jack Colletto

Out: Jeremy McNichols, Brian Hill

This one has been pretty set in stone for some time, with Christian McCaffrey leading the charge.

The Stanford alum has picked up where he left off in college, running amok for the 49ers in the NFL. In 11 games last season, CMC amassed 1210 yards from scrimmage, the most since 2019. Those numbers should continue in 2023, especially with a whole offseason under Shanahan.

Complementing McCaffrey will be a combo of Mitchell, Mason and Davis-Price. The first has an edge, even if he can’t stay healthy at the moment. Both Mason and TDP have shown serious improvement this summer, especially the latter.

But with so many mouths to feed on offense, does that make a backup expendable? It happened last season with Jeff Wilson Jr.

Only time will tell.

But for now, the 49ers are happy to have a deep RB room.

Wide Receiver

In: Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Jauan Jennings, Ronnie Bell, Ray-Ray McCloud

On the fringe: Danny Gray, Willie Snead IV

Out: Chris Conley, Tay Martin, Isaiah Winstead, Anthony Miller

The starters are to be expected here, with Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk both set for big years. Do-it-all Jennings is also back in his WR3 role, a vital part of the running game as well.

The surprise lock at wideout has to be rookie Ronnie Bell, the diamond in the rough of the 49ers’ 2023 draft class.

The Michigan alum has been amazing in the preseason, leading all WRs in Week 2 with 114 yards on seven catches. A physical runner with serious run-after-the-catch ability, Bell should be the team’s punt/kickoff returner to start the year.

And with veteran McCloud out with a broken wrist, that could open some doors for the rookie as well.

Second-year speedster Danny Gray will probably make the initial 53, before being out on IR for four weeks. That will allow the 49ers to add another veteran for the time being, like Willie Snead or Chris Conley.

Tight End

In: George Kittle, Charlie Woerner

On the fringe: Ross Dwelley, Cameron Latu, Brayden Willis

Out: Troy Fumagalli

Another position that is pretty set at the top.

Kittle will continue his reign as TE1, with Charlie Woerner likely backing up on offense. Oak Ridge High School alum Ross Dwelley should also make the roster, given his knowledge of the playbook.

The trick will be if the 49ers want to have four TEs this year.

Rookie Cameron Latu would fill that void, even though he’s had a less-than-inspiring preseason. He came on late, however, and that should be enough to see if slip into 53.

But watch him get put on IR with his meniscus injury, keeping him sidelined for four games.

That could allow fellow rookie Brayden Willis to see some game action off the practice squad.

Offensive Line

In: Trent Williams, Aaron Banks, Jake Brendel, Spencer Burford, Colton McKivitz

On the fringe: Matt Pryor, Jon Feliciano, Jaylon Moore, Ilm Manning

Out: Nick Zakelj, Jason Poe, Joey Fisher, Keith Ismael, Corey Luciano, Leroy Watson, Alfredo Gutierrez

The starters practically remain unchanged from 2022, with Williams, Banks, Brendel and Burford all back this season.

The only new starter is right tackle Colton McKivitz, replacing Mike McGlinchey moving forward. McKivitz has done well in the preseason, holding up on the practice & game field.

San Francisco’s backups are a whole other story, with some bumps along the way for each this month.

Swing tackle Pryor and interior linemen Feliciano have looked the best of the bunch, so they’re a lock probably. Also, Manning has looked good on the field, playing the LT role with confidence. While he’ll likely push inside, he has a chance to make a real contribution for the 49ers.

T Jaylon Moore will likely be the last to make it, serving a positional need for SF. His play has been less than inspiring to say the least.

The rest of the lot will either be on the practice squad, or on waiver wire.

Defensive Line

In: Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Javon Hargrave, Clelin Ferrell, Drake Jackson, Javon Kinlaw

On the fringe: Kevin Givens, Kerry Hyder Jr., T.Y. McGill, Austin Bryant, Marlon Davidson

Out: Robert Beal, Kalia Davis, Alex Barrett

Similar to the offensive line, except the new starter is a big addition to the franchise.

Defensive tackle Javon Hargrave inked a four-year deal to join the 49ers from the Philadelphia Eagles over the offseason. His veteran presence and unique abilities on the interior make him an excellent counterpart to Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead.

FYI, Bosa has still not reported to 49ers HQ, holding out for his new mega deal to be finalized. It’s only a matter of time though, no need to worry just yet.

Maybe.

Opposite of him will be either Ferrell or Jackson, two players that have improved entering this season.

The ex-Raider in Ferrell has looked good throughout the month, taking a fast approach to coach Kris Kocurek. While the second-year prospect in Jackson has added a lot more weight to his build, hoping to withstand the added toughness of the pros.

On the interior, Javon Kinlaw has looked like a new man in the preseason, having a good performance against the Chargers last Friday. Fully healthy from his ACL tear in 2021, the former first-round pick will be needed by SF in 2023, making this an all-or-nothing season for him.

Other rotational players who will probably make the roster are Givens, Hyder and McGill. Players like Bryant and Davidson could also find their way to the 53 after a solid preseason for both.

Linebacker

In: Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw, Oren Burks, Jalen Graham, Dee Winters

On the fringe: Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, Marcelino McCrary-Ball

Out: Curtis Robinson

No surprises here: Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw is your starting linebacker duo.

Instead, the questions start at sub-linebacker for the 49ers, thanks to the departure of Azeez Al-Shaair in the spring.

So far, veteran Oren Burks has held down the fort. But sadly, he suffered a PCL sprain in the preseason, keeping him on the sidelines to start the regular season.

That means it’s open season at the third spot, with both the rookie LBs taking advantage.

Jalen Graham and Dee Winters have shown promise in exhibition games, playing with speed and instincts that translate to the NFL. The former in particular has impressed, getting middle LB duties against LA.

Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks has liked what he’s seen from both late-round draft picks, meaning they’ll be on the main roster after this week.

Also joining them is Flannigan Fowles or McCray-Ball, both playing well in the preseason. The veterans have had lingering injuries all August though, hence the rookies’ emergence.

Cornerback

In: Charvarius Ward, Deommodore Lenoir, Isaiah Oliver, Samuel Womack, Ambry Thomas

On the fringe: Darrell Luter, A.J. Parker, Qwuantrezz Knight

Out: Tre Swilling, D’Shawn Jamison

Over the course of the last 12 months, the 49ers have established a strong CB1, an above-average to good CB2, and a question mark at nickelback.

So far, Charvarius Ward has established himself as the clear-cut No.1 option. While fellow CB Deommodore Lenoir has emerged as the second-best cover man on the roster. But still, no clear option in the slot.

The 49ers brought Isaiah Oliver in to fill the role, but he’s wildly underperformed thus far. That means Wilks has to experiment a bit.

Lenoir could possibly move inside, able to play across the field. To fill the outside, prospects like Ambry Thomas and Samuel Womack could get a chance. Or the 49ers could look to the trade market or waiver wire for more help, anything is possible.

But for now, they’ll work with what they have on the depth chart, with rookie Darrell Luter also a name to watch.

Safety

In: Talanoa Hufanga, Tashaun Gipson, Ji’Ayir Brown, George Odum

On the fringe: Taylor Hawkins

Out: Myles Hartsfield

The starters remain the same here, with Talanoa Hufanga and Tashaun Gipson back together for one more year.

The duo were sensational in 2022, playing all 22 games for the 49ers. Repeated success will depend largely on the growth of Hufanga, who is expected to continue his All-Pro play from a year ago.

And if one of them slips or gets injured, the 49ers will turn to rookie Ji’Ayir Brown.

San Francisco’s highest draft pick of 2023 has looked the part in the preseason, making plays all over the field. It’s been a slower process adjusting to the NFL than they’d like, but the coaching staff has all the confidence in the world that Brown will be a special talent.

On the roster edges, Taylor Hawkins has delivered solid performances this month. But he got hurt.

He should be an IR candidate after making the 53.

Special Teams

In: K Jake Moody, P Mitch Wishnowsky, LS Taybor Pepper

On the fringe: Any kicker available

Out: Zane Gonzalez

The 49ers’ special-teams unit has been a hot topic, mainly because of the kicker situation.

Rookie Jake Moody has had an inconsistent preseason, missing field goals left & right. After hitting everything on the practice field, his confidence seems to be wavering heading into the final preseason game.

And then he got hurt.

Now out with a quad strain, the Michigan alum could miss the regular season opener in Pittsburgh. Regardless, he should still be on the roster come Tuesday night.

Wishnowsky and Pepper were locked to begin with.

Here’s the fun part: Who is kicking Week 1 for the 49ers?

Backup Zane Gonzalez would have been the choice, but he pulled his hamstring in warmups last Friday. So that’s not happening.

San Francisco has looked at other options, bringing in a few kickers for workouts this week. Another option is bringing back fan favorite Robbie Gould.

Only time will tell who can get healthy by Week 1 to start for the Red & Gold.

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