SANTA CLARA — Change is constant in the NFL, which is also an acronym for “Not For Long.”
Even a roster as strong as the 49ers, who have played in the last two NFC Championship games, turned over more than a quarter of its current 53 members. Changes could still take place heading into Week 1 on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 10.
Here is a subjective ranking of the 14 new faces and their potential contributions to what the 49ers hope will be a Super Bowl season:
1. DT Javon Hargrave
A quick strike in free agency to the tune of four years and a maximum of $84 million, Hargrave adds a sawed-off (6-foot-2) and relentless inside presence at 305 pounds to go along with the more angular Arik Armstead (6-7, 290). Hargrave becomes even more important should Nick Bosa’s holdout carry past Week 1. Hargrave played his first four seasons as a 3-4 nose tackle with the Steelers.
2. K Jake Moody
There’s no guarantee Moody will even be ready for Week 1 with a quad strain. Matthew Wright was added to the practice squad just in case. Coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch are optimistic. A third-round draft pick and No. 99 overall, Moody isn’t allowed the mistakes of a normal rookie. He needs to lead the 49ers in scoring and instantly convert the clutch field goal attempts that his predecessor Robbie Gould did routinely from 2017 through 2022.
3. S Ji’Ayr Brown
Brown’s reputation as a playmaker who is around the ball and a willingness to hit led to a trade up to No. 87 in the third round — the 49ers’ first pick in the draft out of Penn State. The 49ers have established starting safeties in veteran Tashaun Gipson and All-Pro Talanoa Hufanga. But Gipson has been battling an undisclosed injury and new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks looks primed to get Brown and his skill set in some packages — occasionally with two other safeties on the field.
4. QB Sam Darnold
Darnold pushed Trey Lance out of the building by proving to Shanahan he could sufficiently run a new system. Darnold’s pure passing ability is the best on the roster and he’s never had this kind of supporting cast. If Brock Purdy falters and the 49ers lose a couple of games, Darnold’s popularity will skyrocket with the fan base. And if Purdy is injured, Darnold will be the man until such a time Brandon Allen takes over.
5. CB Isaiah Oliver
Oliver was a targeted signing at two years and $6.7 million ($2.9 million guaranteed) to replace slot corner Jimmie Ward. Early reviews were mixed, with Shanahan saying Oliver was no lock to start and Deommodore Lenoir getting some work inside at nickel. Both Wilks and Lynch said they are pleased with Oliver’s progress. In theory, he should have put a torn ACL in 2021 behind him after making it through last season with the Falcons.
Defensive end Clelin Ferrell is hoping to jump-start has career after signing as a free agent from the Raiders in the offseason. A.P. Photo
6. DE Clelin Ferrell
A disappointment as the No. 4 overall pick by the Raiders the same year Bosa went No. 2 to the 49ers, Ferrell was generally impressive during training camp. No one is expecting him to come in and get double digit sacks, but he can play on a rotational basis along with second-year man Drake Jackson and perhaps jump-start his career. Ferrell’s character and effort have never been questioned.
7. G-C Jon Feliciano
If left guard Aaron Banks, center Jake Brendel or right guard Spencer Burford are injured, Feliciano steps in as a starter. A nine-year veteran of 97 games and 54 starts with the Raiders, Buffalo Bills and New York Giants, Feliciano is regarded as a good locker room presence with a mean streak on the field.
8. OLB Jalen Graham
A seventh-round draft pick out of Purdue (No. 255 overall), Graham is a candidate to fill the starting role of the departed Azeez Al-Shair. That position, with Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw around, will be first off the field when the 49ers go to nickel and dime alignments that utilize Oliver and/or Brown. Graham, at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds out of Purdue, fits the mold of a 49ers linebacker who can run and is an intriguing blitz option for Wilks.
9. WR Ronnie Bell
Bell stuck because of his run-after-catch ability in the preseason although there were two passes that glanced off his hands and turned into interceptions. Also a potential punt return specialist, Bell could be active and have a Week 1 role depending on if Ray-Ray McCloud’s wrist heals enough after surgery.
10. T Matt Pryor
The spot on the 49ers offensive line that has fans the most uneasy belongs to Colton McKivitz, who replaced Mike McGlinchey at right tackle. Rather than have one swing tackle to play both spots, the 49ers appear ready to roll with Jaylon Moore backing up Trent Williams with Pryor behind McKivitz. At 6-foot-7 and 332 pounds, Pryor has 60 games of experience with 24 starts for Philadelphia and Indianapolis.
11. LB Dee Winters
Winters specialized in being around the ball and making big plays in college at TCU and could be a special teams factor although his chances could be limited provided Warner and Greenlaw stay healthy. He was a sixth-round draft pick, No. 216 overall.
12. DE Austin Bryant
Bryant has taken a liking to defensive line coach Kris Kocurek’s “never take a backward step” philosophy along the front four. He was initially released but returned to the roster in some roster juggling, which may indicate he could be the odd man out once Bosa agrees to terms and signs a contract.
13. TE Brayden Willis
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A seventh-round draft pick out of Louisville, No. 247 overall, Willis showed some receiving skills during training camp practices. At 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, he’s not an in-line tight end but can work in space when flexed. Once the real games begin, likely to be inactive behind George Kittle, Ross Dwelley and Charlie Woerner.
14. QB Brandon Allen
What Purdy did last season as the initial No. 3 may never again be duplicated. The fervent hope is Allen, a four-year veteran, will stay right where he is with Purdy staying healthy and Darnold taking over if need be. Spent the last three seasons with Cincinnati and Joe Burrow and started three games as a Denver rookie in 2019.