With the 53-man roster deadline looming around the corner, the 49ers' front office is preparing for several difficult decisions.
Only one exhibition game remains for players on the bubble to prove to general manager John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan that they are indispensable. The head coach shared on Friday what the third preseason matchup will provide for the front office.
“It's a big challenge, but that's also what practice is to me,” Shanahan said. “It tells us a lot more than some of these games. Games tell a ton too, but you get the basis of all your decisions in practice and you kind of want to confirm it in the game.”
Here are 10 players who would benefit from a great performance in the 49ers' last preseason contest against the Las Vegas Raiders:
S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
One of the biggest factors that could influence the team keeping Clinton-Dix might be the health of teammate Jaquiski Tartt. The veteran Pro Bowl safety was signed while Tartt was working his way back from substantial toe injury that was originally going to leave him sidelined past the beginning of the season.
While the Pro Bowl safety has done a commendable job since signing with the team, it might not be enough to hold on to a spot if Tartt can make a full return. Position mate Talanoa Hufanga is also vying for a spot. The rookie has been showing progress while also being a special teams contributor.
LB Marcell Harris
Any player that has made a transition to another position has the opportunity to be more versatile for their team but it also provides a challenge. In Marcell Harris’ first offseason as a linebacker, he has progressed well, but like Clinton-Dix, another player’s health could be a factor. If Mychal Kendricks (toe) will be out for an extended time, Harris likely is a solid lock for a spot on the 53-man roster. Sunday’s game will be an important one for Harris — an opportunity to prove he can thrive at the linebacker position.
RB Elijah Mitchell
The rookie has gotten a lot of reps throughout training camp but it will be tough for him to make the final 53 with how well JaMycal Hasty has been playing. Raheem Mostert and Trey Sermon are locks for the top two spots and Gallman showed improvement against the Chargers. Mitchell’s debut preseason performance could help tip the scales.
TE Jordan Matthews
Matthews has proven himself at a wide receiver but has been an entirely new undertaking as a tight end. The veteran’s run blocking has improved but a great performance against the Raiders could influence his rank in the group. Matthews is cerebral and a complete professional but how well he has been able to adjust to his new position will determine if he or MyCole Pruitt will be the fourth tight end to make the squad.
RB Wayne Gallman
The fourth running back spot is really a battle between Mitchell and Gallman. The former New York Giant didn’t have his best showing in the 49ers' first preseason game with six carries for 21 yards and one catch for four yards. Much improved in Los Angeles when facing the Chargers averaging 4.8 yards per carry, Gallman could be someone Shanahan wants to keep because of his experience and ability to be a receiver and ball carrier.
T Colton McKivitz
McKivitz has seen a lot of the field in the first two preseason games, but competition is close for the backup/swing tackle position. Jaylon Moore has done an exceptional job on the left while the team rested Trent Williams. While second-round draft pick Aaron Banks has primarily been seen as a guard, many believe he has the size and talent to naturally fit in on either end of the offensive line. McKivitz has this final preseason game to show why he is worth keeping on the roster.
DL Arden Key
After confessing his happiness for the move to Santa Clara, Key has had a renewed enthusiasm for the game. On any other team, his turnaround would nearly guarantee a spot on the 53, but with the 49ers, the defensive line room is deep. The former Raider will need to have an outstanding performance against his former team to be able to make the 53-man roster. Both Jordan Willis and Alex Barrett have more experience and history with defensive line coach Kris Kocurek and the 49ers.
WR Jauan Jennings
The enthusiastic wideout finally got his chance to acclimate to the NFL after COVID-19 restrictions and injury woes kept him off the field in 2020. Jennings has been a standout in practice, but a heel injury kept him out of the matchup with the Chargers. Shanahan indicated that the young receiver should be available to play on Sunday and it will be important for the former Volunteer to showcase his abilities one last time before the roster is finalized.
DT Zach Kerr
Another could-be casualty of the 49ers' deep defensive line room is Kerr. The journeyman defensive tackle has had a productive camp and preseason but without the ability to keep everyone, the 30-year-old might have a tough time making the final 53. The team already has D.J. Jones and Javon Kinlaw on the interior of the line and Kentavius Street and Kevin Givens likely are next in on the rotation. A standout performance could be the key for Kerr to stick around.
WR Jalen Hurd
The 49ers have been waiting for over two years to see what their third-round draft pick of 2019 is capable of. An unfortunate string of injuries has kept Hurd off the field and again his participation has been sporadic throughout training camp. While Lynch and Shanahan both want to see if the former running back can realize his potential, they likely are wary of his injury history. If he can showcase his multifaceted talents on Sunday, they might not be able to let him go.