San Francisco 49ers

Final 49ers 53-man roster projection: Tough decisions at a few positions

What to expect on 49ers cut-down day, plus Reuben Foster, Solomon Thomas observations

The 49ers ended their exhibition schedule with a last-second, 23-21 defeat to the Los Angeles Chargers. Chris Biderman breaks down the play of Reuben Foster and Solomon Thomas, as well as what's next for the roster.
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The 49ers ended their exhibition schedule with a last-second, 23-21 defeat to the Los Angeles Chargers. Chris Biderman breaks down the play of Reuben Foster and Solomon Thomas, as well as what's next for the roster.

The 49ers entered Thursday’s exhibition finale with a good idea as to how their first 53-man roster would shape up. The deadline to trim the roster from 88 is Saturday at 1 p.m. and the team plans to make an initial wave of cuts on Friday.

Kyle Shanahan said after Thursday’s last-second, 23-21, loss to the Chargers that there weren’t many positional battles that are undecided.

“It wasn’t necessarily just position battles, but just where we’re going to go with the roster,” he said. “Where we’re going to go heavy (with certain positions). Where we’re going to go light. It’s going to be a few tough decisions on that that we’re going to have to really talk through tomorrow.”

Shanahan and his staff sat out most of the starters Thursday, including Jimmy Garoppolo and Richard Sherman, while a few players on the roster bubble were given extensive playing time. Fringe players like defensive lineman Ronald Blair (five tackles, one sack), pass rusher Pita Taumoepenu (three tackles), running back Raheem Mostert (five carries, eight yards) and tight end Cole Hikutini (one catch, two yards) could ultimately have their futures decided by injuries elsewhere and which players carry more value on special teams.

The goal coming into the season, Shanahan said, was for players that miss the cut to wind up on 53-man rosters elsewhere. That would be a good sign the 49ers are moving in the right direction in terms of upgrading the roster and developing talent in Year 2 of the new regime with general manager John Lynch.

“There’s definitely more than 53 guys that I’d like to keep on our team, and there’s definitely more than 10 guys I’d like to have on our practice squad,” Shanahan said. “That wasn’t as much of a problem last year. I hope that’s a problem that we have every year.”

Here’s our final 53-man roster projection:

Quarterback (2)

Jimmy Garoppolo

C.J. Beathard

--Shanahan made it clear after the third preseason game Nick Mullens wasn’t going to overtake Beathard for the backup job. The question becomes: Was Jack Heneghan good enough in the finale to overtake Mullens for the practice squad? That seems unlikely, though Heneghan made a good impression, completing 8 of 9 passes for 58 yards while leading two touchdown drives.

Running back (5)

Jerick McKinnon

Matt Breida

Raheem Mostert

Alfred Morris

Kyle Juszczyk (fullback)

--Morris proved to the 49ers he’s a viable insurance policy while McKinnon and Breida work their way back into the fold. Though that could change when Reuben Foster’s suspension ends Week 3 and the teams needs a roster spot.

Receiver (6)

Pierre Garçon

Marquise Goodwin

Trent Taylor

Dante Pettis

Kendrick Bourne

Richie James

--James played throughout the preseason finale, making seven catches for 80 yards, finishing as the team leader with 15 receptions for 192 yards over the four games. Players who are assured a roster spot typically don’t play much in the last preseason game, so James’ workload could indicate he’s on the wrong side of the roster bubble. The team might prefer Aaron Burbridge for his special teams value or Aldrick Robinson for his knowledge of the offense. But the safe money is on James sticking around while D.J. Reed or Tarvarius Moore replace Burbridge as a gunner.

Tight end (3)

George Kittle

Garrett Celek

Cole Wick

--Cole Hikutini had another drop on Thursday and played most of the game, while Wick was subbed out after appearing in the first half. That points to Wick winning the Battle of the Coles for the No. 3 tight end job. Hikutini appears primed for the practice squad.

Offensive line (9)

Joe Staley

Laken Tomlinson

Weston Richburg

Mike Person

Mike McGlinchey

Garry Gilliam

Joshua Garnett

Jonathan Cooper

Erik Magnuson (Injured reserve)

--If the 49ers want Magnuson to return at some point in 2018 after suffering a hamstring injury in Houston, he’ll have to be given a roster spot during final cuts before going on injured reserve. That might be prudent given the team is still unsure what Cooper can provide coming off knee surgery and his lengthy injury history. And with Magnuson hurt, Person is the only other option at center should something happen to Richburg.

Inside linebacker (4)

Malcolm Smith

Fred Warner

Brock Coyle

Elijah Lee

*Reuben Foster is suspended for the first two games and won’t count against the 53-man roster.

--Lee proved more valuable on special teams and more productive on defense than Korey Toomer, a free agent addition who was brought in after starting 16 games over the last two seasons with the Chargers. The 49ers might keep five at this position when Foster returns and clear a roster spot elsewhere.

Outside linebacker (4)

Cassius Marsh

Jeremiah Attaochu

Dekoda Watson

Mark Nzeocha

--Attaochu sat the preseason finale, which was somewhat surprising given he hadn’t established himself as a sure thing in the preseason. The big omission here is 2017 sixth-round pick Taumoepenu, who could use some more development on the practice squad.

Defensive line (7)

DeForest Buckner

Solomon Thomas

Earl Mitchell

Arik Armstead

Sheldon Day

Jullian Taylor

D.J. Jones

--The need for a fifth running back and extra offensive lineman mean Taumoepenu and Ronald Blair III are on the wrong side of the numbers game. Blair appears expendable with the emergence of Taylor, the recent seventh-round pick, who notched his second preseason sack Thursday. Blair would likely land on another 53-man roster thanks to his versatility.

Cornerback (6)

Richard Sherman

Ahkello Witherspoon

K’Waun Williams

Jimmie Ward

Greg Mabin

Tarvarius Moore

--Moore and Mabin started the finale. Undrafted rookie Tarvarus McFadden, the former Florida State standout, also played extensively. The 49ers would love to get him to the practice squad, though he might not clear waivers.

Safety (4)

Jaquiski Tartt

Adrian Colbert

D.J. Reed

Tyvis Powell

--There’s a good chance the 49ers make a trade or pick up a player off waivers to back up Tartt. For now, we’ll say Powell makes it because he’s the team’s only option. He started at strong safety on Thursday after spending the bulk of his time at cornerback since joining San Francisco last season.

Specialists (3)

Bradley Pinion (punter)

Robbie Gould (kicker)

Kyle Nelson (long snapper)

--Jeff Locke was brought in to be a camp leg and offer the 49ers’ returners the chance to field punts from a left-footer. Pinion is better on punts and is one of the league’s best at kickoffs.

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