49ers

Three things you need to know from 49ers' preseason win over Cowboys

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AP

Three things you need to know from 49ers' preseason win over Cowboys

SANTA CLARA -- Three things you need to know about the 49ers’ 24-21 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday night in the preseason opener for both clubs at Levi's Stadium:

James is a Keeper

If the 49ers thought they could hide wide receiver Richie James in order to keep him on the practice squad, he did a good job of showing the rest of the league he can play at this level. Now, it seems as if it might not be a gamble worth taking for the 49ers to waive him, in hopes no other team will claim him.

James, a seventh-round draft pick from Middle Tennessee State, saw action on the third play of the game as he entered as the 49ers' No. 1 slot receiver. James was in that role with Trent Taylor being held out of the game as he rounds into shape after offseason surgery to remove bone spurs in his lower back.

James caught four passes for 46 yards, including 7-yard touchdown from third-string quarterback Nick Mullens with :18 remaining for the winning points.

Taylor Gains Valuable Experience

The door is open for rookie defensive end Jullian Taylor to make an impact for the 49ers with Arik Armstead expected to miss approximately a month with a hamstring injury. Taylor started and played most of the game.

“I saw him make a bunch of plays," 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. "He did a good job for us in camp, and it looks like he showed up tonight. I look forward to seeing him on film when we get in there.”

Taylor recorded three tackles, including a fourth-quarter sack of Cowboys quarterback Mike White in the fourth quarter. He had two quarterback hits and a tackle for loss.

Taylor started just nine games during his injury-plagued career at Temple, so the 49ers want him to gain experience in the exhibition season to make up for all the games he missed.

Competition for Backup RB Jobs

Jerick McKinnon, the highest-paid running back from the free-agent class, is the clear 49ers starter. And Matt Breida, who is expected to miss some time with a shoulder injury, is the No. 2 guy.

The 49ers on Thursday showed they have three capable reserves who are battling for the No. 3 job. Joe Williams gained just 27 yards on 11 carries, but he has put himself in position to win a job based on his better work ethic from a year ago.

Raheem Mostert is one of the 49ers’ top special-teams players. He gained 57 yards on eight rushing attempts but also lost a fumble.

“I thought they ran hard," Shanahan said of Williams and Mostert. "I don’t think we gave them a ton of spacetoday. The times that we did have space, I thought they made some good runs."

And Jeremy McNichols, a fifth-round pick last year of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, had three carries for 15 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

NFL draft: Who should 49ers target or avoid if they trade back from No. 2?

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USATSI

NFL draft: Who should 49ers target or avoid if they trade back from No. 2?

So what happens if the Arizona Cardinals select Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa with the No. 1 overall pick?

Until the Cardinals actually announce their decision – as most have believed for a while – that Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray is their man, there remains a bit of intrigue. The 49ers must wait patiently at No. 2.

If Bosa goes No. 1, the 49ers would likely listen to offers to trade out of No. 2. That’s where things could get very interesting. And it opens up a lot more possibilities for the 49ers to consider with their first- and second-round draft picks.

Here are a couple of players the 49ers could consider if they trade back from No. 2 – either with their first or second-round selection -- and a couple of highly rated players they should not be tempted to select:

Boom?

In a trade-back scenario, the 49ers could still get their edge rusher.

Florida State edge rusher Brian Burns has size, athleticism and room to get better. Just a shade below the first wave of edge rushers, Burns might end up topping them all. He played three seasons in college and finished with 10 sacks in 12 games last season before declaring for the draft.

At 6-foot-5, 249 pounds and with 4.53 speed, Burns would be used immediately as a nickel pass-rush specialist. That is fine. That is what the 49ers need, and eventually that role can expand.

Bust?

Michigan defensive end Rashan Gary should have been a dominant player in college. He was not. He has measurables off the charts, but not the production that should go along with it.

His skills and athleticism are freakish. But after three seasons of college football, he recorded a total – a total – of just 9.5 sacks. And, now, we’re supposed to believe that he is going to get 9.5 sacks a season while going up against better competition?

Gary has started his own sports agency. It seems like the best plan of attack would be to get established as a really good NFL player before devoting so much attention to marketing.

Boom?

Their new wide receivers coach was not there to work with him at the Senior Bowl, but South Carolina wide receiver Deebo Samuel already showed what he can do in the 49ers’ offense.

Samuel has a trait that coach Kyle Shanahan likes in his wide receivers – the ability to get open. He is a very good route-runner, and he is tough. At 5-foot-11, 214 pounds, he might not have the size of some of the other receivers the 49ers might consider in the second round, but he has the ability to separate quickly.

Samuel would give the 49ers a nice tool in the red zone, where the club has struggled mightily the past two seasons.

[RELATED:  Jimmy G couldn't disappoint 49ers with eyes on him during rehab]

Bust?

The 49ers probably will not have the opportunity to pass on Ole Miss D.K. Metcalf in the second round, and that will be just fine for them.

Metcalf has otherworldly measurables. But Metcalf was far-and-away the second-best receiver on his college team. The 49ers should prefer A.J. Brown to Metcalf, who turned off more than a few people with the 49ers during their contentious meeting at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Metcalf is 6-3, 228 pounds. He ran a 4.33 at the combine. Yet, he put up pedestrian numbers in college – approximately half the production of Brown. Some team will take him in the middle of the first round, and that team will probably end up being disappointed.

Jimmy Garoppolo, Jerick McKinnon rave over 49ers' player performance staff

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AP

Jimmy Garoppolo, Jerick McKinnon rave over 49ers' player performance staff

The 49ers revamped their medical and training staff over the offseason, and thus far it’s getting positive reviews from both Jimmy Garoppolo and Jerick McKinnon. 

After 17 players spent time on injured reserve in 2018 and 24 the season prior, the 49ers felt they needed to make a few changes.

The result was Ben Peterson becoming the new head of player health and performance while Dustin Keller was tapped as the head athletic trainer. 

The pressure is on coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch as they head into their third season having collected only 10 wins. Their success is linked to the return of Garoppolo and McKinnon, and the player performance staff obviously plays a key role in making sure both players get back to 100 percent.

The hope is that the two sides would work more efficiently together, ultimately becoming one department.

Garoppolo has been impressed by their efficiency thus far.

“Bringing in Dustin and Ben, I think they’ve done a good job of just, it’s a smooth process,” Garoppolo said. “No time wasted, one thing after another. Especially this time of the year. 

“We’re so condensed with time that every minute counts and those guys, they’ve really done a good job. I think guys are buying into it.”  

McKinnon was even more effusive when asked about the new staff. He indicated that what Shanahan and Lynch were trying to accomplish has already started working.  

“They’ve done a great job of just being on the same page,” McKinnon said. “And with everything, not just players getting hurt or whatever. They have a plan and I think everybody is going to be excited what they see from them.” 

Both McKinnon and Garoppolo seem to be itching to get back onto the field even though they understand they need to be careful.

McKinnon was asked if he noticed a difference in his progress with the new staff in place. He confirmed that even in the short amount of time he has been working with them, he has indeed noticed a change.

“Definitely,” McKinnon said. “I’ve been getting a lot stronger. I wish I could tell you all, but I can’t. I definitely feel comfortable, I definitely feel confident, and they got me throwing up a lot of weight so I like that too.

“It’s been about them not judging how much volume I have on my knee, what I do every day.” 

[RELATED: Jimmy G wouldn't let 49ers down with eyes on him in rehab]

McKinnon’s new controlled freedom also comes at a stage in his rehabilitation where he is noting a bit of progress. It sounds as though he has similar views on his training program as the new staff. 

“Yeah now,” McKinnon said. “Before I felt like I was on a leash. But every step along the way, you get to do new stuff and get more freedom -- be out there cutting, ladder drills and stuff like that. It’s nice to finally be able to do more.”