June 19, 2024
After facing the Los Angeles Chargers Friday night, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan will begin the process of whittling his team's roster to 53 men.

SANTA CLARA — The 49ers play their final preseason game Friday night against the Los Angeles Chargers with only minor tinkering left on a roster they believe to be Super Bowl caliber.

Having settled the quarterback pecking order, the only question is whether Trey Lance sticks around as a high-priced No. 3 or if he’s traded or granted a release to start anew someplace else. For what it’s worth, KNBR’s Greg Papa reported that Lance was at Thursday’s walkthrough, which is closed to media outside of the flagship station.

Should Lance depart, Brandon Allen slides in as No. 3, whether it’s on the 53-man roster or the practice squad.

Other than that, there’s at least one top-level player at every position group and sometimes two when you consider Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel at wide receiver, Nick Bosa (once he signs) and Javon Hargrave on the defensive line, Christian McCaffrey and Kyle Juszczyk in the backfield and Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw at linebacker.

The offensive line has Trent Williams, George Kittle is the tight end, cornerback Charvarius Ward justified his big contract a year ago with his coverage ability and safety Talanoa Hufanga was an All-Pro in his second season.

So the only drama that remains has to do with depth and a supporting cast for a roster most everyone believes is one of the best in the NFL. Teams must cut to 53 players on Aug. 29 (Tuesday) with 37 players getting the word on their fate over the weekend and up to the deadline.

Chances are good that many of these decisions have already been made, pending what happens against the Chargers and whether there are any injuries that would change the roster makeup.

Some areas to keep an eye on:

Brandon Aiyuk has been a camp-long standout for the 49ers at wide receiver. Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group

Wide receiver

Who will join Aiyuk, Samuel and Jauan Jennings? Ray-Ray McCloud (wrist) will make the initial 53-man roster. Then he’ll either be placed on injured reserve, opening up another spot for the first four games of the season, or kept on the roster if his absence is only for a game or two. (He must make the initial roster in order to be designated to return from IR later.)

Danny Gray (shoulder) is another candidate to make the roster and then go on injured reserve. Seventh-round pick Ronnie Bell has turned heads even though he’s had passes go off his hands and turn into interceptions in each of the 49ers’ first two preseason games. Veterans Chris Conley and Willie Snead IV have flashed, as has Tay Martin.

There’s also a chance a return specialist who is also a receiver could be found on the waiver wire and be put to work in Week 1 in Pittsburgh.

Tight end

It’s hard to know how it shakes out after Kittle. Third-round draft pick Cameron Latu couldn’t catch anything for a time but has rebounded of late, including a touchdown against the Broncos. Seventh-round pick Brayden Willis looks like a practice squad keeper. Incumbents Charlie Woerner and Ross Dwelley are still around.

Deebo Samuel (19) and Trent Williams (71) lend star power to the 49ers at wide receiver and the offensive line. Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group

Offensive line

Matt Pryor and Jaylon Moore are competing to be the swing tackle behind starters Williams and Colton McKivitz, with converted tight end Leroy Watson a potential practice squad player.

Has veteran Jon Feliciano done enough to be a backup at center and both guard spots? Nick Zakelj and Jason Poe are in the mix. How they’ve been graded out by run game coordinator Chris Foerster is anybody’s guess.

Running back

After McCaffrey and Juszczyk, it’s still Elijah Mitchell, Ty Davis-Price and Jordan Mason. There’s lots of buzz about Davis-Price and Mitchell keeps getting injured but has a productive regular-season pedigree.

Undrafted free agent Jack Colletto could be a practice squad target as either a future or emergency replacement for Juszczyk.

Defensive line

There is every possibility Bosa arrives soon and is good for 50-plus snaps in pursuit of Kenny Pickett in Pittsburgh on Sept. 10. If not, it’s a body blow with Clelin Ferrell, Drake Jackson, Kerry Hyder Jr., Austin Bryant Jr. and fifth-round draft pick Robert Beal Jr. hoping to pick up the slack.

The 49ers love the fact that Javon Kinlaw has been healthy since the offseason and stacked more practices than at any point in his career. We’ll find out how much they like him if he’s the third tackle behind Hargrave and Arik Armstead. If Kinlaw has fallen behind T.Y. McGill or Kevin Givens, he’s not a lock for the roster.

Dre Greenlaw (57) gets in some juggling during training camp practice for the 49ers. Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group

Linebacker

Oren Burks’ knee injury opened the third linebacker spot alongside Warner and Greenlaw. Rookies Jalen Graham and Dee Winters have had their moments, and Demetrius Flanigan-Fowles and Marcelino McCrary-Ball are still around.

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Secondary

Despite some shuffling in recent practices at corner, the best bet remains Ward and Deommodore Lenoir on the outside with Isaiah Oliver in the slot. Ambry Thomas, who was getting run with the first team after showing up in a better mental and physical frame of mind, has missed the last two practices without an injury disclosed as Samuel Womack IV appears to be on more solid ground.

Undrafted rookie D’Shawn Jamison is worth keeping around whether it’s on the 53 or practice squad.

At safety, Ji’Ayr Brown, a third-round pick, should get some time along with Tashaun Gipson Jr. and Hufanga. George Odum is a core special teams player, and Myles Hartsfield was with defensive coordinator Steve Wilks in Carolina.

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