San Francisco 49ers

49ers mailbag: Probing for team weaknesses; who's the No. 3 RB?

San Francisco 49ers running back Joe Williams (32) during the first half of an NFL preseason football game in Kansas City, Mo., Friday, August 11, 2017. Williams probably has the best chance for the No. 3 spot in Kyle Shanahan's RBBC system.
San Francisco 49ers running back Joe Williams (32) during the first half of an NFL preseason football game in Kansas City, Mo., Friday, August 11, 2017. Williams probably has the best chance for the No. 3 spot in Kyle Shanahan's RBBC system. AP file

Rod T. McGrath‏ @Rodmcgrath Everything coming out has made it sound like the Niners are going to be a force to reckon with this season; but where are they most vulnerable: QB? LB? DL? OL? DB?

ANSW: Well, if Jimmy Garoppolo goes down there will be a mourning period in Northern California and parts of Chicago (Oh Lord, I hope it's not his face!). I like C.J. Beathard quite a bit, but he's not at Jimmy G level yet. After quarterback, I'd say that offensive tackle is the next most vulnerable spot. Garry Gilliam and Darrell Williams Jr. probably are the Nos. 3 and 4 tackles on the team. And if Richard Sherman or Ahkello Witherspoon gets hurt, the 49ers would have to go with either a cornerback who doesn't fit their mold (Jimmie Ward) or one with little experience (Greg Mabin or Tyvis Powell or Tarvarius Moore). Losing Marquise Goodwin also would have a big effect on the offense because his speed is such a concern for defenses.

Justin Muller‏ @1burnman Haven't thought about it but here's one what does Pierre Garcon have left as an NFL player I know that puts you on the spot and have to cover you cover the team but I'd like an answer.

ANSW: Garcon certainly didn't look spectacular this spring. But I don't remember him standing out last offseason, either. (Goodwin was the star of last year's warm-up period). When the regular season began, however, Garcon clearly was the 49ers' top target and he was on pace for 1,000 yards when he suffered a fluke injury. Garcon's game is built on gritty, over-the-middle catches and an occasional play in which he breaks free deep. I think the over/under on his production remains 1,000 yards.

Tiny‏ @KingTiny81 We all know Kittle and celek are our the TEs right now making the roster.. who do you think is our third? Or do we only carry 2 and let Juice play there also?

ANSW: When tight ends coach Jon Embree spoke earlier this month, he seemed to make it clear that the top three tight ends, at least at that moment, were Garrett Celek, George Kittle and Cole Hikutini. I think the 49ers will keep three tight ends on the active roster. How much the third, which likely will be Hikutini, plays will depend on the matchup and the health of Trent Taylor and the others who play the "F" spot.

Nathan Green‏ @MasterNateor How is (cornerback Tarvarus) McFadden doing? Will he be a practice squad guy? Or special teams?

ANSW: He did fine in the OTAs and minicamp, though I never saw him anywhere but with the third-team defense, which is par for the course for an undrafted rookie. That's a crowded spot, especially since the 49ers likely have to keep still-developing Tarvarius Moore on the active roster or risk losing him. If McFadden has a spectacular training camp and preseason, the 49ers will have to reassess. But at this point it seems like the practice squad is where he'll land.

Donald Leeper‏ @donniejunior66 Matt, based upon what you have seen would you say we get closer to "Seattle All Pro" Richard Sherman or "Retirement" Richard Sherman.

ANSW: Too soon to say. Watching him last week was like watching a pitcher's first few throws after Tommy John surgery. Sherman didn't have his fastball yet.

Ronnie D‏ @DmgzBmt45 Whos your pick if the niners have a surprise cut?

ANSW: The most prominent player in danger of being cut? Guard Joshua Garnett. He's going to have to hold off two players the 49ers acquired as free agents, Mike Person and Jonathan Cooper. Person currently is the team's backup center, which seems to dramatically improve his roster chances.

Ram Torres‏ @SMT_HBK_JrsDad Matt, any major seperation between Joe Williams & Raheem Mostert for the #3 spot in Shanny’s RBBC system? Has Jeffrey Wilson impressed Coach Turner and staff at all? Any additional word on McNichols? Thanks.

ANSW: Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida clearly are the top two backs on the team. Who's No. 3? Right now it's Mostert, who is very good out of the backfield as a receiver and who has excellent special teams value as well. He led the 49ers in special teams tackles last year. Still, the others have a chance to overtake him with strong training camps and/or preseasons. Williams probably has the best chance because he's potentially the biggest home-run hitter — one cut and he's gone — on the team. It seems to me that any one of the runners competing for the backup spot — Mostert, Williams, Jeremy McNichols and Jeff Wilson — easily could be stashed on the practice squad.

Tony's Health Tips‏ @Tonyshealthtips 1.) Is it just me or do the 49ers have an unusually high number of guys who are studs on special teams? Even the returners aside.

ANSW: It's not just you, Tony. Mostert, Jimmie Ward and Aaron Burbridge all are excellent gunners on punt coverage. (I imagine Moore and sixth-round pick Marcell Harris are, too). The 49ers' deepest spot, meanwhile, may be inside linebacker. Those guys tend to make excellent special teams players. You can imagine the smart and savvy Fred Warner becoming a leader on special teams while he bides his time at linebacker.

San Francisco 49ers rookie inside linebacker Fred Warner talks about playing for defensive coordinator Robert Saleh after minicamp on Wednesday, June 13, 2018.

Patty from Napa @jovicat Will we make the playoffs this year? I know, just a simple question with a lot of ifs, ands and perhaps.

ANSW: If I could tell the future, Patty, I'd be dictating this from my yacht, the Bear Rows III. Will the Rams be as good as everyone thinks? Will the Seahawks be as bad? Can the 49ers keep Jimmy G's jersey clean? These are perhaps the biggest variables.

510maleake‏ @510maleake49er Lots of people have complained about the stale, cooperate feel to Levi's (me included), with Jimmy G leading the team, do you think Levis will be more lively or even have true home field advantage?

ANSW: I thought the Dec. 24 game against the Jaguars had one of the best — the best? — atmospheres since Levi's opened. That's a good sign that the stadium, with the right team playing in it, can come alive.