The 49ers entered the NFL draft last week with seven scheduled picks, including five selections from the fifth-through-seventh rounds.
Because of the strength of the 49ers’ personnel, general manager John Lynch figured it would be difficult for those late-round picks to earn spots on the team’s regular-season roster.
The 49ers ended up packaging a fifth-round pick, along with a third-rounder in 2021, to acquire left tackle Trent Williams in a deal with Washington to replace the retiring Joe Staley.
Through other dealings, the 49ers ended up with South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw and Arizona State wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk in the first round, along with West Virginia offensive lineman Colton McKivitz, Georgia tight end Charlie Woerner and Tennessee wide receiver Jauan Jennings in the final three rounds.
With the ratification of the new collective bargaining agreement, there are greater opportunities for players on the back end of the roster to make contributions. Teams are allowed to suit up 48 players for regular-season games (up from 46), and practice-squad sizes increase from 10 to 12.
Each week, teams are allowed to promote up to two practice squad players to appear in games without requiring the players to go through waivers to return to the practice squad. Teams are allowed to use that waiver bypass up to two times per each individual on the practice squad.
So there will be opportunities for the 10 undrafted players the 49ers signed in the aftermath of the draft. Here is our rankings of the 49ers’ undrafted rookies, in order, beginning with the players most likely to make a contribution this season:
DL Darrion Daniels, Nebraska
We lean heavily on what the 49ers tell us. And the 49ers tell us they think highly of Nebraska defensive lineman Darrion Daniels, based on the $105,000 guarantee the club gave him. That figure essentially guarantees Daniels will be, at worst, on the practice squad.
There also is a greater opportunity for a defensive lineman to work his way into the picture because the 49ers likely will keep eight or more players at that position group on the roster. The team generally sets a rotation during games that includes at least seven linemen seeing significant action.
Daniels (6-foot-3, 311 pounds) is an aggressive, high-energy attacking player who fits the style D-line coach Kris Kocurek demands from his charges. The door is open for Daniels to fine-tune his game and, in essence, earn the spot to replace Sheldon Day, who signed this offseason with the Indianapolis Colts.
WR Chris Finke, Notre Dame
Notre Dame slot receiver Chris Finke was a priority undrafted target of the 49ers, who awarded him $95,000 in guaranteed money. Finke can be expected to secure a spot on the practice squad. But he has a chance to place himself into solid position for a roster spot if Trent Taylor has any kind of setbacks in his return from the foot injury/surgeries that kept him out of action for the entire 2019 season.
Taylor is the team’s best slot receiver. Finke might be the next-best player cut out for the role in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Finke also brings with him the added dimension of being a steady performer in the return game.
RB JaMycal Hasty, Baylor
Baylor running back JaMycal Hasty has a very specific value to the 49ers. The offense did not have a true third-down back last season. Hasty (5-8, 205) exclusively is a third-down back. The 49ers awarded Hasty a $90,000 guarantee, which proves the organization believes he has a chance, too.
The 49ers traded Matt Breida to the Miami Dolphins during the draft, so that opens up one roster spot for another running back. The player most likely to take that role is Jerick McKinnon. But McKinnon has not played since the 2017 season due to knee issues. There is no guarantee he will be the same player in 2020 as when he last suited up.
Hasty has good route-running and pass-catching skills. He figures to be in direct competition with McKinnon for a spot. Hasty has the added value of being a projected top contributor on special teams, too.
CB DeMarkus Acy, Missouri
The 49ers did not select a cornerback in the draft. They reached an agreement to sign Missouri cornerback DeMarkus Acy (6-0, 195) as an undrafted rookie with a guarantee of $60,000. That puts him in solid positioning to, at least, open the season on the practice squad.
If Acy proves to be close to any of the team’s returning veteran cornerbacks, he stands a good chance of being with the club at the outset of the regular season. Richard Sherman, Ahkello Witherspoon, Jason Verrett and Dontae Johnson are set for unrestricted free agency after this season. Emmanuel Moseley is scheduled to be a restricted free agent.
Cornerback was the only one of the 49ers’ significant needs the team did not address in the draft. That’s a huge advantage for Acy in his quest to win a roster spot.
RB Salvon Ahmed, Washington
Washington running back Salvon Ahmed (pronounced suh-VON OCK-med) will be in competition with Hasty for the next-man-up spot in the 49ers’ backfield. While Ahmed (5-11, 195) has better size and is more versatile for the NFL game, he rates a step behind Hasty as a third-down option. The 49ers’ deal with Ahmed guarantees him $50,000.
Ahmed is a patient runner who has the ability to explode up the field. He is a better fit for Shanahan’s offense as a runner on base downs. But his ability to win a roster spot might hinge on his ability to prove himself as a route-runner and pass-catcher.
DB Jared Mayden, Alabama
Jared Mayden of Alabama is an ideal backup in the 49ers’ defensive scheme for his ability to play either of the team’s safety positions. Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt appear set as the starters. Mayden will have an opportunity to crack into a reserve role, as he competes against Marcell Harris and Tarvarius Moore.
He will have an opportunity to win a roster spot as a reserve safety but will have to establish himself as a player who either has significant upside for the future or immediate value as a core special-teams player.
LB Jonas Griffith, Indiana State
Don’t sleep on Indiana State linebacker Jonas Griffith (6-3, 247), though the 49ers’ group of linebackers already is solid. Griffith will be eyeing a reserve role behind starters Fred Warner, Kwon Alexander and Dre Greenlaw. He will compete against Joe Walker, Azeez Al-Shaair and Mark Nzeocha.
Griffith’s immediate future with the club is tied entirely to how he performs on special teams. If he is a tackling machine on the coverage units, he will buy himself some time to prove he can make an impact on defense in the future.
FB Josh Hokit, Fresno State
Ideally, Fresno State fullback Josh Hokit, an NCAA wrestling All-American, brings Kyle Juszczyk-esque versatility to the team.
The 49ers have not retained a backup fullback on their active roster or practice squad since Juszczyk was signed in the spring of 2017. That might not change this year, either. The 49ers likely are expecting Woerner to handle a lot of the duties as a move tight end if they ever need someone to fill in for Juszczyk.
So Hokit’s challenge is to prove to the 49ers’ decision-makers that the best route for the organization is to keep him around. The increase in practice squad members works to his advantage. The door is open for him to prove worthy of a longer look.
TE/DE Chase Harrell, Arkansas
The 49ers list Chase Harrell of Arkansas as a tight end. But he was impressive during a pre-draft pro day – before all pre-draft pro days were shut down – as a defensive end. It could be that the 49ers like the options he presents to them on either side of the ball.
As a tight end, Harrell will have a difficult time cracking the roster as he comes to the team behind George Kittle, Ross Dwelley, Woerner and Daniel Helm. As a defensive end, he has a lot to learn. Either way, his athleticism and versatility could be an attractive option for the 49ers to retain on the practice squad.
QB Broc Rutter, North Central (Ill.)
The 49ers kept three quarterbacks on their regular-season roster in 2019, as Lynch and Shanahan believed both Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard were NFL-caliber players behind Jimmy Garoppolo.
Quarterback Brock Rutter of North Central College was one of the most prolific passers in NCAA Division III history. With no offseason program and/or a reduced training camp and exhibition season, it will be even more difficult for Rutter to prove himself and stick around when the regular season begins.