49ers' 53-man roster projection

The preseason is (finally) over and the 49ers have to trim the roster from 75 to 53 by Saturday afternoon. Given everything we know, here's our projection of the team's 53-man roster.

Here’s my projected 53-man roster with a note or two for each position. Like it? Hate it? Let me know on Twitter.

Quarterback (2)

Colin Kaepernick
Blaine Gabbert

Given the depth and special teams needs on the roster, the 49ers won’t have much use for a third quarterback. They will likely add one more to the practice squad. McLeod Bethel-Thompson is eligible after getting waived earlier this week. Even despite Josh Johnson’s really good showing in Thursday’s preseason finale, where he completed 14 of 17 and threw three touchdown passes, the 49ers need the roster space elsewhere. And with the team needing to every penny possible under the salary cap going forward, Gabbert and his guaranteed $2 million aren’t going anywhere despite his struggles this August.

Running back (5)

Frank Gore
Carlos Hyde
LaMichael James
Alfonso Smith
Bruce Miller

The first three, plus the fullback Miller, is pretty straight forward. Smith’s spot is questionable, but gets the nod based on his ability to help out on special teams. Given how much the 49ers’ run the ball, it’s hard to imagine not keeping four tailbacks. Will Tukuafu will get some consideration given his versatility (fullback, defensive lineman, special teams), but ultimately won’t make the cut. Glenn Winston should land on the practice squad.

Wide Receiver (6)

Michael Crabtree
Anquan Boldin
Stevie Johnson
Quinton Patton
Bruce Ellington
Kassim Osgood

Going back to the beginning of camp, it was hard to see a scenario in which Brandon Lloyd made the team with everyone healthy. It’s my belief Lloyd was brought in as an insurance policy for those first three players above him on the depth chart. And since they’re all healthy heading into the season, Lloyd is the odd man out. Keeping Osgood was tough decision, but since the 49ers are going to be losing another key special teamer (hint: keep reading), he sticks around. Lloyd didn’t play Thursday while he continues to work through an injury. Osgood had a great game on special teams Thursday that included a blocked punt.

Tight End (3)

Vernon Davis
Vance McDonald
Derek Carrier

Perhaps the easiest position on the roster to handicap. There are no surprises here, but keep an eye on how the team uses Carrier. He provides more to the passing game than Garrett Celek, but isn’t the same blocker. Look for the 49ers to use an extra lineman as an eligible tight end in running situations without Celek to help there. Asante Cleveland could make the team if Carrier’s hamstring injury lingers into the regular season. Cleveland caught a touchdown pass Thursday.

Offensive Tackle (4)

Joe Staley
Anthony Davis
Jonathan Martin
Carter Bykowski

The 49ers don’t appear any closer in their negotiations with Alex Boone than they were at the start of training camp. And without him, they won’t feel nearly as comfortable at the position beyond the starters. Bykowski has quietly been very good this offseason and would likely get swooped on waivers if the team tried to land him on the practice squad. Martin is the backup, Bykowski is the insurance.

Offensive Guard (4)

Mike Iupati
Joe Looney
Adam Snyder
Ryan Seymour

Again, without Boone, San Francisco will want some insurance along the offensive line. Iupati’s ankle is still a concern, Snyder is getting up there in age and Looney has yet to establish himself. Without Marcus Martin, who I have going on injured reserve and getting shut down for the season, Seymour makes it thanks to his ability to play both guard and tackle. Typically teams keep eight lineman, but the offensive line has been the No. 1 area of concern during the preseason. The team will keep nine, just to play it safe, I say.

Center (1)

Daniel Kilgore

Without Martin, the 49ers will have one true center while Snyder likely takes over as Kilgore’s backup. Looney was given reps at center in the win over the Texans.

Defensive End (5)

Justin Smith
Ray McDonald
Quinton Dial
Tank Carradine
Tony Jerod-Eddie

Demarcus Dobbs is the omission here. The 49ers simply won’t need a sixth defensive end, even if Dobbs contributes as a blocker on kick returns. Lawrence Okoye likely gets a shot at the practice squad.

Nose Tackle (1)

Ian Williams

Mike Purcell played well in the preseason, but it wasn’t enough to land a roster spot. He will get a shot at the practice squad, assuming he doesn’t get plucked by another team along the way.

*Editors Note*: Glenn Dorsey cannot go on injured reserve/designated to return until next Tuesday. This projection reflects the roster after Dorsey gets that designation. He will have to remain on the roster until then, at which point I project Seymour as the player released and brought back to make the designation possible.

Inside Linebacker (4)

Patrick Willis
Michael Wilhoite
Chris Borland
Nick Moody

Another pretty straight forward decision. When NaVorro Bowman returns at some point during the season, this group is likely to stay the same with a corresponding roster move to be made elsewhere. Shayne Skov played well, but is on the wrong side of the numbers game. The 49ers will have a hard time getting him to the practice squad, although they would certainly like to. With Borland and Moody, the 49ers might have the best backup duo of inside 'backers in the NFL.

Outside Linebacker (4)

Ahmad Brooks
Dan Skuta
Corey Lemonier
Aaron Lynch

Aldon Smith will likely start the year on the suspended list and will not count toward the 53. Like Bowman, the corresponding move with his return will likely come elsewhere on the roster. Chase Thomas looks like a practice squad possibility, but really played well Thursday and might not make it through waivers.

Cornerback (6)

Tramaine Brock
Chris Culliver
Perrish Cox
Dontae Johnson
Darryl Morris
Kenneth Acker

Chris Cook doesn’t make it, being stuck between the starting lineup and not adding much to special teams, despite his two preseason interceptions. He will land on his feet elsewhere. Between Johnson, Morris and Acker, there were too many promising young players for Cook to make the cut.

Safety (5)

Eric Reid
Antoine Bethea
Craig Dahl
Jimmie Ward
Bubba Ventrone

C.J. Spillman did not have a great camp, leaving the 49ers with five safeties. Ward will likely take Spillman’s job as a gunner in punt coverage. However, Ventrone’s hamstring injury will be something to watch. Vic Fangio said this week Dahl would likely be the first safety in the game should either Reid or Bethea get hurt in a regular season game, making him safe. James McCray looks like a practice squader, although his strong performance against the Texans might mean he gets snatched up.

Specialists (3)

K Phil Dawson
P Andy Lee
LS Kevin McDermott

Okay, maybe tight end wasn’t the easiest position to handicap.

Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform List

LB NaVorro Bowman
TE Garrett Celek
DT Kaleb Ramsey

Reserve/Non-Football Injury List

RB Marcus Lattimore
FB Trey Millard
CB Keith Reaser
OG Brandon Thomas

Suspended (Projected)

Aldon Smith

Reserve/Did Not Report

Alex Boone

Injured Reserve (Projected)

NT Glenn Dorsey (gets return designation)
Marcus Martin


It looks like Martin could be able to return roughly eight weeks into the season. But once healthy, it would likely take two or three weeks of conditioning before he gets back into playing shape. At that point, is he worth keeping on the roster? After all, he’s a 20-year-old rookie still in need of development while the team has Syder, a veteran, available to replace Kilgore. Consider Martin another 49ers’ red-shirt rookie in 2014. Keeping him on IR allows them to use his roster spot elsewhere and give Dorsey the return designation (Note: Dorsey can’t be put on Injured Reserve/Designation for Return until Tuesday).

General manager Trent Baalke said earlier in camp there were 46 or 47 spots locked down. This projection reflects that, with the only real surprises coming along the offensive line. Bykowski and Seymour making the team compensates for the preseason struggles, Boone’s holdout, Iupati’s ankle and Jonathan Martin’s inconsistencies. On the D-line the influx of Dial and Carradine put Dobbs on the wrong side of the bubble, while Ward’s work as a gunner makes Spillman expendable. Cook and Lloyd are in the same boat at their respective positions. They are both reasonably good backups, but have promising younger, and cheaper, players behind them on the depth chart more capable on special teams.


E-mail Niners Digest: NinersDigest@gmail.com

Follow Editor in Chief Chris Biderman on Twitter.

Get updates from NinersDigest by following here and become a subscriber to receive access to premium content and analysis.

Niners Digest Top Stories