San Francisco 49ers: Projecting Each Rookie’s Role in 2016
By Peter Panacy
Undrafted Free Agents
UDFA players rarely make an NFL regular-season roster. At best, many wind up on practice squads or are lucky enough to find a full-time role as a backup with some team, somewhere.
But there are gemstones from time to time. Nose tackle Ian Williams was a UDFA. So was cornerback Tramaine Brock.
Can we expect something out of San Francisco’s current UDFA cast?
Alex Balducci, DL
Former Oregon offensive linemen Alex Balducci was asked to switch over to the defensive side of the ball, per Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area. Balducci likely won’t be much more than depth to an already deep D-line, but he should have a shot to make the Niners practice squad if he impresses enough.
Jered Bell, S
Safety Jered Bell isn’t going to usurp veteran safeties Eric Reid or Antoine Bethea. And he probably won’t unseat Jaquiski Tartt or special teams ace L.J. McCray either. The 49ers will look to see if they can find some flexibility in his use within the secondary. Likely a practice squad candidate, look for Bell to get some frequent snaps in the preseason.
Devon Cajuste, WR
Former Stanford wide receiver Devon Cajuste could wind up making the 49ers 53-man roster in 2016. He has excellent hands and an impressive 6’4″, 227-pound frame, which makes him a likely tight end-conversion candidate and possible red-zone threat.
The Niners need all the help they can get in this area of the field.
Demetrius Cherry, DL
Demetrius Cherry is another player likely to supply some defensive line depth for San Francisco during camp and in the preseason. It’s hard to see him making a regular-season roster, but he has a unique skill set to bring down ball-carriers and wrap up players at the point of attack.
Jason Fanaika, LB
The 49ers have some questions in their pass-rushing department, so adding Jason Fanaika made some sense. At 6’3″ and 270 pounds, Fanaika is probably a better fit on the outside but may not have the necessary tools to translate his four sacks in 2015 over to the pro level.
He could, however, take over veteran linebacker Corey Lemonier’s spot on San Francisco’s depth chart if the former impresses enough.
Lenny Jones, LB
Like Fanaika, former Nevada linebacker Lenny Jones would be another pass-rushing candidate on the outside. He has a better pass-rushing skill set than Fanaika though, so his probability to land on the 53-man roster is slightly better.
Darren Lake, DL
SEC defenders are always a tough breed, and former Alabama defensive lineman Darren Lake is no exception. At 6’3″ and 315 pounds, Lake is a tough nose tackle capable of stuffing the middle of the D-line while shutting down anyone attacking through the middle.
He’ll probably wind up landing behind backup nose tackle Mike Purcell, which probably won’t get Lake a spot on the regular-season roster. Perhaps he lands on the practice squad.
John Lunsford, K
We probably won’t see too much of 41-year-old veteran kicker Phil Dawson this preseason, so expect to see plenty of kicks from former Liberty kicker John Lunsford instead.
Unless the 49ers elect to part ways with Dawson — like they did with former Niners punter Andy Lee a year ago — Lunsford is merely a camp body.
Wynton McManis, LB
Inside linebacker is another spot of question for the 49ers this offseason, so Wynton McManis might wind up being a type of player who could secure a backup role for the interior of San Francisco’s defense if he impresses enough.
McManis also should benefit from his contributions on special teams while at Memphis.
Blake Muir, OL
Blake Muir is a standout run-first guard, who might give the Niners some reserve options in the running game this season — an area in which the team struggled last year.
Muir could end up as a developmental project for San Francisco, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see him land on the practice squad as a result.
Norman Price, OL
Former Southern Mississippi offensive lineman Norman Price is likely another camp body, who will push the competition at both guard and tackle. His skill set likely projects him to be a guard at the pro level, but he does have durability on his side.
Don’t expect him to be more than a camp option though.
Bryce Treggs, WR
San Francisco has plenty of unproven wide receivers, and Bryce Treggs is among the newest of this deep, untested group.
Fortunately for Treggs, he was one of the few who really impressed during OTAs and minicamp. This bodes well for him, and the Niners may want to find a way to get him onto the roster in one way or another.
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