How 49ers rookies fit into team's plan


How 49ers rookies fit into team's plan

The rookies joined the 49ers’ veterans this week in the offseason program.

Here’s a look at how the 23 rookies could fit into the organization – whether it’s the 53-man roster or 10-member practice squad – once the regular season begins:

--DL DeForest Buckner: The first-round pick should open the season as a starter. That's a reasonable expectation for the No. 7 overall draft pick.
--OG Joshua Garnett: After trading up to draft him in the first round, he is expected to win a starting job on the offensive line.
--CB Will Redmond: Although GM Trent Baalke promised he’ll be ready for training camp, logic says it might take him a while to show what he can do. Clearly, the 49ers expect him on the 53-man roster at the beginning of regular season.
--CB Rashard Robinson: The fourth-round pick has to get stronger. He’s expected to win a spot on 53-man roster but might have to grow into a role.
--DL Ronald Blair: His versatility and ability to rush the passer gives him a good chance to win spot on 53-man roster, though he will have difficult time making the game-day 46.
--OL John Theus: He could compete at right tackle. His versatility also puts him in the picture to be swing tackle and backup guard.
--OL Fahn Cooper: See above. He and Theus will compete for virtually same role.
--QB Jeff Driskel: It’ll be difficult for him to beat out Thad Lewis for the No. 3 job, but it’s certainly possible. In any case, his physical talents are worth developing on the practice squad for at least a full season.
--RB Kelvin Taylor: Solid all-around back should make a run for backup job behind Carlos Hyde, but a spot on 53-man roster is far from guaranteed. 
--WR Aaron Burbridge: The 49ers have a bunch of young, unproven wide receivers. He can win a roster spot if he distinguishes himself, but the practice squad might be the most-likely route. 
--CB Prince Charles Iworah: He joins a group that includes three draft picks from 2014 and two others from this year’s class. Could be ticketed to practice squad to allow development.

--WR Devon Cajuste: The ultimate ‘tweener could conceivably win a roster spot as a slot receiver because of the matchups. He could go against slower linebackers or use his size and strength against smaller defensive backs. His versatility gives him a chance.
--WR Bryce Treggs: A slot receiver, he might have to show quickly that he is sure-handed and capable as a punt returner to make a run at Bruce Ellington’s job.
--OL Blake Muir: He will be up against returners Andrew Tiller, Ian Silberman and Brandon Thomas to make a bid for a roster spot.
--OL Norman Price: Price is right there in the same category as Theus and Cooper. He's a tackle who will be asked to show his versatility to bump inside.
--OL/DL Alex Balducci: A defensive lineman in college, he comes to the 49ers as an offensive lineman. He is the perfect practice-squad candidate due to his ability to play both ways.
--DL Demetrius Cherry: He has the size (6-5, 297) to get the 49ers attention. If he shows up when the pads go on, the practice squad is within his grasp.
--DL Darren Lake: Spot on 53-man roster is a long shot, but the 49ers will keep one true nose tackle on the practice squad.
--LB Jay Fanaika: At 271 pounds, Fanaika has a 35 ½-inch vertical. The door is open for the pass-rush-starved 49ers to be impressed with a newcomer.
--LB Lenny Jones: Taller but lighter than Fanaika, the two rookies are competing against each other, Corey Lemonier and Eli Harold.
--S Jered Bell: Roster spots here are scarce, but the practice squad is in play.
--K John Lunsford: He has incredible leg strength but needs to tighten up his accuracy. He has a chance to take over for Phil Dawson in 2017.
--LB Wynton McManis: He earned a contract after impressing the 49ers during a tryout. He weighed 237 at his pro day. He played outside linebacker in college, but he appears well-suited to move inside. A role on special teams is his ticket.

NFL analyst could see 49ers replacing Jimmy Garoppolo with Kirk Cousins


NFL analyst could see 49ers replacing Jimmy Garoppolo with Kirk Cousins

Last season didn't go as planned for the Minnesota Vikings or the San Francisco 49ers, albeit for different reasons.

After signing quarterback Kirk Cousins in the offseason, the Vikings stumbled to an 8-7-1 record, missing the playoffs a year after going to the NFC Championship Game. Cousins, despite tossing 30 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions, underperformed the massive contract he was given and was a clear scapegoat for the Vikings' disappointing year. 

As for the 49ers, after Jimmy Garoppolo went down in Week 3 with a torn ACL, the wind was taken out of their sails and they limped to a 4-12 finish. 

Both the 49ers and Vikings have high hopes for 2019, but if things go awry for both squads, one NFL analyst could see Kyle Shanahan swapping Jimmy Garoppolo for Kirk Cousins.

Yes, you read that correctly.

On Pro Football Talk Live, Mike Florio floated the idea of Shanahan -- who was Cousins' offensive coordinator for two seasons with the Redskins -- electing to move on from Jimmy G if his 2019 is subpar and grab Cousins should the Vikings cut bait with the veteran QB. Chris Simms, who knows Shanahan well, doesn't think it's as impossible as it sounds.

"I don't think it's crazy, Mike," Simms said. "You know, this thought or this theory, I don't think it's crazy. 

"I do think we are getting to the end of the territory or the end of the shelf life of this Minnesota football team. What you're saying if things didn't work out this year and they went 7-9, 6-10, 8-8 and miss the playoffs -- do they abandon ship, restart and retool their team? And yes, if the 49ers underperform, you know, could I see them going after a Kirk Cousins? Certainly. I really could see it happening."

Slow your roll, Chris.

After acquiring Garoppolo from the New England Patriots in 2017, Jimmy G went 5-0  as a starter and was rewarded with a massive five-year, $137 million contract. But should things go bad in 2019, the 49ers would only face a $4.2 million cap hit if they chose to move on from the star quarterback.

[RELATED: Breaking down Beathard vs. Mullens as 49ers' backup QB]

It would be a shock to see the 49ers part with Garoppolo in favor of an aging and overrated Cousins, but stranger things have happened. 

Examining 49ers' backup QB competition of C.J. Beathard, Nick Mullens

Examining 49ers' backup QB competition of C.J. Beathard, Nick Mullens

The most talked-about competition on the 49ers is also for a job coach Kyle Shanahan hopes is the most superfluous position on the team during the 2019 regular season.

Reserve quarterbacks C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens are competing for the job to suit up on game days and serve as Jimmy Garoppolo’s insurance policy.

“You really hope Jimmy stays healthy so it’s irrelevant who’s the No. 2 guy,” Shanahan said before the 49ers broke off last week at the conclusion of the offseason program.

“These guys have both proven that they can play in this league and we’re going to have to make a tough decision at the end of preseason to which one we want to give that No. 2 job to.”

At the beginning of the past two seasons, there was never a question that Beathard would serve as the team’s backup quarterback -- behind Brian Hoyer in 2017, then Garoppolo last season.

But things are different this summer after Mullens became one of the bright spots of a thoroughly disappointing 49ers season. He played well during his eight-start stint to close out the season.

Mullens compiled a respectable 90.9 passer rating while putting up big numbers after taking over for Beathard for the 49ers’ Week 9 game against the Raiders. Mullens averaged 285 yards passing per game, ranking him fourth all-time through eight games behind Patrick Mahomes, Andrew Luck and Cam Newton.

Yet, Mullens earned nothing other than the right to compete with Beathard for the backup job. And Shanahan seems to be pleased with both players, based on what he witnessed during the nine-week offseason program.

“C.J.’s had a real good camp,” Shanahan said. “He’s been playing real well. So has Nick. So I’ve been excited about both of them.”

Beathard was a third-round draft pick in 2017. The 49ers signed Mullens immediately following that same draft as an undrafted rookie. Mullens was among the final cuts before the starts of the ’17 and ’18 seasons. After he cleared waivers, Mullens immediately signed back to the 49ers’ practice squad.

Mullens was promoted to the 49ers’ 53-man roster last season after Garoppolo sustained a season-ending knee injury in Week 3.

First-year quarterbacks coach Shane Day has outlined some areas of improvement for both players. Shanahan said the true competition for the backup job will begin in training camp, but there’s little he does not already know about both men.

“I know both of them so well, because we’ve been here two years with them and we’ve gotten a chance now to see both of them in practice and both of them in games,” Shanahan said.

“They’ve both been doing a real good job, both playing at a high level, so that’s been exciting. But to sit there and really stress over, from a coaching standpoint, trying to make the decision, we’re not there yet because a lot could change.”

Here is a closer look at the decision that Shanahan could face – assuming one of the players is not dealt in a trade -- when the final cuts must be made by Aug. 31 at 1 p.m.

C.J. Beathard

PROS: The 49ers selected Beathard in the third round, which provides a strong indication that he had the physical tools necessary to make all the throws in Shanahan’s offense. But that investment was also two years ago. So, now, the decision is less on potential and more on what the player has done.

Still, Shanahan’s offense is predicated on taking advantage of the weaknesses in the defense. If the play call and defense sets up a deep shot, Shanahan wants to see it thrown deep. Beathard can make the deep throws and has the arm strength to carry the ball outside the numbers.

[RELATED: C.J. Beathard enjoys backup QB competition]

Beathard has shown his toughness through his 10 NFL starts. (That’s also not necessarily a positive, as we’ll explain later.) He has played well at times. He has also struggled. With a better supporting cast, Beathard’s production would also be expected to elevate. Beathard also says the competition has made both players better.

CONS: While Beathard’s toughness can be seen as one of his better qualities, you never want your quarterback taking hits that can be avoided. Beathard must make quicker decisions to get the ball out of his hands and not absorb nearly as many hits he has taken through the course of his first two seasons.

Beathard got pounded way too many times (one sack for every 10.4 dropbacks). Those hits started to have an obvious impact on him, too. He got banged up while making his five starts last season and he began to look shell-shocked.

Physically, he needed a break at the time Mullens took over. But he also appeared to need a mental break, too. In 10 starts over his first two seasons, Beathard threw 13 interceptions with 12 TD passes.

Beathard must improve his pocket awareness. It’s easy to stand in the pocket during offseason drills and training camp in order to make the throws. The big test for Beathard will be to process information and get rid of the ball when he’s going up against an enemy pass rush.

Nick Mullens

PROS: Mullens is a gamer. He has been underestimated his entire career, and he continues to prove himself at every level he’s played.

Mullens took his preparation to peculiar levels even when he was on the practice squad. He practiced called plays in the huddle while cranking up crowd noise in his headphones. Mullens knows the offense very well. He also never showed any signs of getting rattled – other than his annoyance with Shanahan, who continued to talk in his ear after delivering the play call.

Mullens’ arm strength (more on that later) is questionable, but he can make up for some of his limitations with his timing -- his knowledge of the offense, reading the defense and anticipating his throws.

CONS: Despite some very good statistics, including an 8.3-yard average per attempt, Mullens did not grade well with some Pro Football Focus metrics.

His 64.2 completion percentage topped Beathard (60.4) and Garoppolo (59.6), but Mullens ranked near the bottom of the league in completion percentage in small windows as well as passes of 20-or-more yards down the field. The takeaway from PFF is that Mullens thrived because Shanahan was able to scheme receivers to be open.

Where his arm tends to be a problem is that defenders tend to get their hands on Mullens’ passes. In college, he threw 46 interceptions in 44 games. Last season, he was intercepted 10 times in eight starts with 13 TD passes.