Ranking which 49ers undrafted rookies have best chances to contribute

Ranking which 49ers undrafted rookies have best chances to contribute

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.

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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.

[RELATED: How 49ers depth chart looks after offseason developments]

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.

Why Colin Cowherd would hire 49ers' Kyle Shanahan to coach his NFL team

Why Colin Cowherd would hire 49ers' Kyle Shanahan to coach his NFL team

There currently are 32 NFL franchises, and for the vast majority of us, at no point during our lives will we have any chance of owning one of them.

But, forget reality. What if you were able to purchase a team? Who would you hire as head coach?

Fox Sports' Colin Cowherd gave his answer to that question Wednesday, but first established the five criteria by which he would form his list of the top 10 coaches he'd want to lead his franchise. They were:

1. Age does not matter 
2. Easy to work with 
3. The less controversy, the better 
4. Innovative thinker 
5. Relates to players

Based on those criteria, Cowherd landed on 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan as his top choice (h/t 49ers Web Zone).

"I know he has had a couple of Super Bowl moments you don't love," Cowherd explained Wednesday on "The Herd," "but I think San Francisco was right. I think he's intense. I think he has got the lineage from his dad (Mike Shanahan). I think he has a system, but he is nimble enough to manipulate the system and listen to (general manager) John Lynch and others. I think he's obsessively driven, which is probably most of these guys.

"But if I start my franchise today, I get the (experience from his) dad, I get him, I get playoff experience, and I also think he has got a chip on his shoulder because he thinks he should have won that Super Bowl last year. And he thinks he should have won that Atlanta Super Bowl against New England when he was the [offensive coordinator]."

Though the 49ers don't have new owners, they clearly share similar feelings about Shanahan, having just recently signed him to a six-year contract extension. He led San Francisco to a nine-win improvement this past season, and already has made it clear the expectation is to get back to the Super Bowl for a second straight year.

[RELATED: Bryant Young knows 49ers in good hands with Shanahan, Lynch]

Should the 49ers accomplish that goal -- and prove victorious in Super Bowl LV -- what few criticisms there are of Shanahan no longer would be valid.

For reference, here is Cowherd's full list:

1. Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers
2. Sean McDermott, Buffalo Bills 
3. Doug Pederson, Philadelphia Eagles 
4. Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams 
5. John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens 
6. Matt Nagy, Chicago Bears 
7. Brian Flores, Miami Dolphins 
8. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma Sooners 
9. Urban Meyer, formerly Ohio State Buckeyes 
10. Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

NFL rumors: George Kittle's 49ers contract could land around $13M annually

NFL rumors: George Kittle's 49ers contract could land around $13M annually

The elephant in the room at this point of the 49ers' offseason is the absence of a contract extension for standout tight end George Kittle. He is entering the final year of his rookie deal which will pay him $2.1 million, and is due to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the upcoming season.

After cementing himself as the best tight end in all of football over the last two seasons, Kittle's inevitable extension has long been expected to reset the market at the position. Austin Hooper currently averages the highest annual salary of any tight end after signing a four-year, $42 million contract with the Cleveland Browns in free agency earlier this offseason.

Estimates for what Kittle could average on his next contract have ranged as high as $20 million per season, but the real number likely is somewhere between there and Hooper's annual rate due to the expected drop in league revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Athletic's Matt Barrows reported Wednesday that someone "in the know" told him that Kittle ultimately would get a contract extension averaging $13 million per season.

That's a far cry from $20 million, but as Barrows noted, it still would make Kittle the highest-paid tight end by a fairly wide margin. Though Kittle probably is worth more than that, the salary-cap uncertainty caused by COVID-19 likely will rule out the possibility of a market-shattering contract. The unprecedented situation could result in a creative deal.

[RELATED: Report: NFL preseason halved; 49ers-Raiders game remains]

The Athletic's David Lombardi recently suggested that it might make sense for Kittle and the 49ers to come to an agreement on a contract that is partially tied to the size of the salary cap moving forward. 

"The 49ers can offer Kittle a guaranteed base annual salary or signing bonus before using a percentage-of-the-cap scale on top of that to pay him commensurate to cap increases in future years, when the NFL’s revenue outlook should be rosier," Lombardi wrote. "That's just an idea. But since this is uncharted territory, creative contract structures cannot be ruled out -- especially if they help break a potentially problematic impasse."

Creativity aside, if an agreement can't be reached on a contract extension, the 49ers would still have the ability to apply the franchise tag to Kittle -- which would pay him the average of the top five tight-end salaries -- for the 2021 and 2022 seasons. That option obviously wouldn't provide Kittle with the long-term security he likely desires, but there's ample motivation on both sides to get a deal done for San Francisco's most indispensable offensive player.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]