SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The 49ers have played two preseason games, giving us a small sample to evaluate when it comes to roster building.
San Francisco will have to trim the roster from 90 to 75 next Tuesday, Sept. 1. In the meantime, here's our first projection of the team's 53-man roster.
Colin Kaepernick: The team's unquestioned starter hasn't missed a game since taking over for Alex Smith, which is why the 49ers will keep just two QBs on the active roster.
Blaine Gabbert: Gabbert's play is improved from his dreadful preseason in 2014. He seems to managing the offense and avoiding mistakes. But if he has to play, will be able to push the ball down field?
Notes: Undrafted free agent Dylan Thompson appears primed for a shot at the practice squad. Through two games, he's completed 7-of-12 for 52 yards, no touchdowns and an interception.
Running Back (6)
Carlos Hyde: The 49ers are expecting Hyde to be their feature back over the next several seasons. With Frank Gore playing for the Colts, this season will be Hyde's first chance to get the bulk of the team's carries.
Reggie Bush: The expectations for the former Heisman Trophy winner are that he provides a boost in the passing game while possibly contributing as a punt returner. Bush hasn't played in the preseason. The question is, will Bush be the player that struggled to stay on the field in 2014, or the guy who had 1,382, 1,278 and 1,512 yards from scrimmage from 2011 to 2013?
Mike Davis: Davis doesn't blow you away with measurables, but he is a solid runner that's had a good preseason. If Hyde had to miss time, expect Davis, not Bush, to get the majority of touches.
Jarryd Hayne: The Hayne Plane has been nothing short of spectacular in the return game through two preseason games. Given all the negativity of the recent offseason, Hayne could be a success story for the 49ers to latch on to. He's averaging 21.6 yards per punt return so far, after Bruce Ellington averaged 8.2 in 2014.
Kendall Hunter: The 49ers are taking it slow with Hunter, who is coming off his second season-ending injury when he tore an ACL last summer. Hunter has trickled into practice of late and may still be a few weeks away from game action. The 49ers love Hunter's explosiveness, when he's healthy.
Bruce Miller: Miller will be the team's only fullback on the roster. He's still a very good lead blocker and factors into special teams. If he faces a suspension for his offseason arrest, expect Trey Millard to take his place.
Notes: Given Hunter is just over a year removed from his ACL tear, expect him to be inactive on game days early in the season. Hunter was not given a PUP or NFI designation at the start of training camp, so he can't open the season on PUP or NFI, which won't save the 49ers a roster spot over the first six weeks. Millard and Kendall Gaskins appear to be strong practice squad candidates.
Tight End (4)
Vernon Davis: The 49ers are hoping to get more of the 2013 version of Davis, when he scored 13 regular season touchdowns, instead of last year's version, when he only scored twice.
Vance McDonald: Believe it or not, McDonald ranked as Pro Football Focus' best run-blocking tight end last season, despite coming into the league in 2013 known more for his pass catching. Drops continue to be an issue, but as long as he's healthy, the former second-round pick remains on the roster.
Blake Bell: With some development, San Francisco is hoping Bell becomes Davis' long-term replacement. He's still raw after switching from quarterback to tight end in college, but has the tools to become a viable starter down the road.
Garrett Celek: The 49ers have always liked Celek's ability to block. He rounds out the group and could get significant playing time if either Davis or McDonald suffer an injury, as they have in recent seasons.
Notes: One of the toughest calls of this projection was deciding if the 49ers keep three or four tight ends. We went with four because the team has been awfully reliant on two-tight end sets this summer. They want outlets in the passing game and tight ends provide that. Seventh-round pick Rory Anderson looks like a practice squad candidate after the team traded away Derek Carrier and Asante Cleveland.
Anquan Boldin: Where would the 49ers be without Boldin, who's had 1,000-yard seasons in his first two years with the team?
Torrey Smith: Two things to keep in mind with Smith: Deep threat. $40 million.
Bruce Ellington: Looking back at their pre-draft measurables, Ellington matches up favorably with Randall Cobb. That's not who the 49ers expect Ellington to be, yet. But if given the opportunity plus good health, he could end up becoming a vital piece to the offense. Unfortunately, Ellington hasn't appeared in the preseason while dealing with a muscle strain.
Quinton Patton: Patton made a few nice catches late in his rookie season of 2013. But he's maturing as a player. He should probably avoid things like running backwards 15 yards after a catch and fighting defensive linemen in practice.
DeAndrew White: The hype surrounding White before the start of the preseason quickly took a back seat to the emergence of Hayne. But White still has value as a speed receiver and on special teams. He can return kicks and punts, while also contributing as a gunner.
Notes: San Francisco could have kept six receivers on the 53 if not for Jerome Simpson's six-game suspension. His absence means it likely keeps five. With White making it, DiAndre Campbell seems like the most likely practice squad candidate. Fifth-round pick DeAndre Smelter could spend all of 2015 rehabbing his torn ACL.
Offensive Tackle (3)
Joe Staley: Staley is probably the 49ers' best and most valuable player on the roster. He's one of the five best left tackles in the NFL.
Erik Pears: Despite a poor 2014 season when he was forced to switch to guard late in training camp, Pears will be San Francisco's starting right tackle replacing the retired Anthony Davis. The 49ers have shown a lot of faith in the nine-year veteran this offseason. It's time to see if it pays off.
Trenton Brown: The rookie seventh-round pick is the biggest player on the roster (6-8, 355) with fire hoses for arms. He's raw, but has shown upside this summer. As he continues to re-shape his body, Brown could make the scouting department look smart for taking a chance late in the draft.
Notes: The 49ers are very thin at tackle. Don't be surprised if they add one from another team once final cuts are made.
Alex Boone: Boone is switching over from right guard to left guard in order to make replacing Staley easier if he were to suffer an injury. When he's playing well, Boone's one of the better guards in the league. Expect the 49ers to run left, a lot.
Brandon Thomas: Thomas has performed well both at right and left guard this offseason after missing all of 2014 rehabbing his injured knee, and is still vying for a starting job. He might also be the emergency left tackle after playing there with Clemson. But he hasn't gotten any practice reps there yet.
Ian Silberman: The rookie sixth-round pick has been impressive in camp and during the preseason. So good, in fact, he's gotten practice reps with the first team this week. It would take a very quick fall over the next two weeks for him not to make it through final cuts.
Notes: Newcomer Jordan Devey also received consideration given the way he's played in his short time with the 49ers. But ultimately, the numbers game is against him. Andrew Tiller is also having a strong camp and is one of Jim Tomsula's favorites. He could be slated for the practice squad.
Joe Looney: Looney is one of the veterans of the otherwise young group and started both preseason games at center. However, he might not be the favorite to start there in Week 1. If not, he's experienced enough to play all three interior spots as a reserve.
Marcus Martin: Despite starting at right guard against Houston and Dallas, Martin appears to be the likely starter at center once the regular season starts. Where he plays is depends on if the 49ers feel the best combination includes him at right guard and Looney at center. He's worked at center when Thomas and Silberman have played right guard.
Notes: Dillon Farrell is the odd man out. If Silberman had not emerged, Farrell would have likely found his way on to the roster.
Phil Dawson: Dawson, 40, will be the team's kicker.
Bradley Pinion: Pinion will punt and likely handle kick offs. He can boom it out of the back of the end zone whenever he chooses.
Kyle Nelson: You don't hear much about Nelson, and that's a good thing for a long snapper. Plus, he's the only long snapper in camp.
Defensive Tackle (5)
Glenn Dorsey: Tomsula loves Dorsey, and is asking him to move to left defensive end in base situations this year. Dorsey may only play base and goal line, allowing the team's more explosive pass rushers into the game on passing downs.
Quinton Dial: Dial is earmarked to start at right defensive end, where he can play on both passing and running downs. He's immovable against the run, and surprisingly mobile when rushing the quarterback.
Cornellius Carradine: 'Tank' will come into the game in passing situations at both defensive end spots. He could also be used in base situations, but the 49ers like him rushing the QB's left side.
Darnell Dockett: Docket will be a pass rushing specialist primarily from the left side. At this point in his career - and coming off last preseason's ACL tear - he's probably not suited for an every-down role.
Arik Armstead: Armstead's been the project many thought he would be. But he's catching on quickly and has the tools to become a good player down the road. He might not suit up for game days given the numbers at the position. But he's in a prime situation, working behind solid veterans and getting coached by Scott Brown and Tomsula.
Notes: Tony Jerod-Eddie will be on an NFL roster, it just won't be the 49ers'. He can play all three defensive line spots, but there isn't room for him on this 53. He's currently the 49ers' most tradable player. Lawrence Okoye has made big strides, but they haven't been good enough to supplant someone else on the depth chart. If he gets through waivers, San Francisco would love to get him back to the practice squad.
Nose Tackle (2)
Ian Williams: Right now, Williams might be the 49ers' best defensive lineman. But, obviously, there are health concerns considering his two fractures of his ankle over the last two seasons. If Williams is healthy, expect him to play base while getting snaps at nickel.
Mike Purcell: Purcell's been the defensive star through two preseason games, backing up his monster six-tackle performance against the Texans with a pick-6 against the Cowboys. Purcell's hard work on the practice squad over the last two years appears to be paying off. However, he might not suit up on game days unless there's an injury.
Inside Linebacker (3)
NaVorro Bowman: The three-time All-Pro is back. The question becomes whether or not the 49ers make him a three-down player, or take him off the field in obvious passing downs to save his knee.
Michael Wilhoite: The fact Wilhoite rejoined practice for the first time this week and was inserted into the starting lineup says a lot about what Tomsula thinks of him. Barring injury, he's the favorite to start next to Bowman.
Nick Moody: Moody had a very strong offseason and camp, but is still working on translating that improvement into games. He's very athletic and loves to hit, and might be one of the league's better back-up options at inside linebacker.
Notes: Shayne Skov was probably the toughest player to keep off the roster for this projection. He could still make it over the final two weeks of the preseason. Desmond Bishop and Philip Wheeler are dealing with injuries, putting them behind the eight ball.
Outside Linebacker (5)
Ahmad Brooks: Brooks has taken on yoga and transformed his body this offseason. The results on the field are showing it. He might be in the best shape of his career and he looks like the two-time second-team All-Pro again after a down 2014.
Aaron Lynch: Lynch is still rounding into shape. But he's earned playing time in both nickel and base situations after working entirely in nickle as a rookie. With Aldon Smith gone, the 49ers need Lynch to step up in a big way. He's capable, but he has to stay healthy after dealing with hamstring and back issues this offseason.
Eli Harold: The third-round pick has potential as a pass rusher, but still needs to refine his overall game. He also needs secondary pass rushing moves. The 49ers are excited about his development.
Corey Lemonier: Lemonier hasn't popped much during training camp or the preseason, but he remains a servicable option against the run. If the 49ers can help it, they will avoid having him on the field is pass rushing situations, where he simply hasn't shown much since his rookie year in 2013.
Nick Bellore: Bellore has played outside linebacker in the preseason, but he can play both outside and inside, which is why only three inside linebackers are listed in this projection. He's a favorite of new special teams coach Thomas McGaughey, who coached Bellore with the Jets. Bellore makes this roster because of his overall versatility.
Tramaine Brock: There have been a lot of questions about the team's cornerback situation this offseason after losing Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver in free agency. But Brock starting is not one of them. He's also the favorite to play nickel.
Keith Reaser: The 49ers like Reaser's athleticism. But after missing all of last year recovering from an ACL tear, he still has some developing to do. He started at right cornerback against the Cowboys.
Kenneth Acker: Like Reaser, San Francisco has a lot of confidence in Acker. He plays with good technique and toughness after missing last year with a stress fracture in his foot.
Shareece Wright: Wright was given the starting job at right cornerback, but didn't play very well in the preseason opener to Houston, starting a round-robin at his spot, with Reaser, Acker and the next player on this list getting playing time.
Dontae Johnson: Johnson played well as a rookie both in the slot and on the outside, before his played tailed off late in the year. He's the team's longest and most versatile corner.
Eric Reid: The third-year safety will be asked to do more playmaking and less center fielder-ing in Eric Mangini's attacking defense. He has all the skills and physical gifts. But his three concussions in two seasons are worrisome.
Antoine Bethea: Arguably the defense's best player in 2014 is back and looks like he's in good shape. At 31, he'll be out to prove he's worthy of a starting spot in 2016 after the 49ers drafted his potential replacement in the second round this spring.
Jaquiski Tartt: Tartt is the favorite to replace Bethea in the long term. In the mean time, he'll play special teams while coming in as a linebacker in certain nickel and dime situations. Tartt is a big hitter with a lot of upside. Having Bethea as a mentor will be critical for his development.
Jimmie Ward: Last year's first-round pick spent the offseason working back from his second Jones fracture in his foot. That's hampered his run at the job covering the slot after playing there as a rookie in 2014. Since returning to practice over the last week, Ward's been working with the third team at safety and didn't play against the Cowboys.
L.J. McCray: Perhaps the 49ers' best special teams player. McCray has been a terror on both kick and punt coverages and should do more of the same in 2015.
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