With it being the halfway mark of the preseason, final 53-man roster cuts are looming on the horizon. The San Francisco 49ers have some decisions to make at the wide receiver position — here’s a prediction of who makes it and who does not.
As it stands, the San Francisco 49ers have 90 players on their active roster. This is no different than any other NFL team. If it were last year, teams would be preparing to make the first round of roster cuts soon — from 90 players down to 75. Then from 75 players to the final 53-man roster, which would constitute the regular-season squad.
But it is a new year, and new rules have been implemented. Instead of cutting from 90 players to 75 and then 75 to 53, there will be just one round of roster cuts. Those cuts will come following the final preseason game. And on that day, it’s going to be difficult for the 49ers when it comes to their wide receiver unit.
These projections will be based using a chart created by Oscar Aparicio from Better Rivals, which is apart of Niner Nation. Aparicio analyzed the construction of every final 53-man roster for each team Kyle Shanahan has coached in the past four seasons:
The number of wide receivers we will be working with is seven. Shanahan has averaged six usually, but I don’t believe the 49ers are going to carry the same amount of defensive players at the same position his previous teams did. The defensive line most likely won’t consist of eight players (like it has on average on prior Shanahan teams), and the 49ers are lacking at safety depth.
First, let’s get the entrenched players out of the way. These are the ones who are but guaranteed a final roster spot:
- Pierre Garçon – The veteran was the team’s top free agent acquisition, signing a 5-year deal worth $47 million. He’s on this team.
- Marquise Goodwin – Another free agent acquisition, Goodwin was handpicked by head coach Kyle Shanahan. Very few on this team can fly like Goodwin can. Book his spot.
- Jeremy Kerley – One of the few stable presences at the position since arriving in San Francisco, Kerley is a solidified member of the team and that was reflected in the 3-year contract extension he signed in the offseason. He isn’t going anywhere.
- Aldrick Robinson – Also handpicked by Shanahan, Robinson was brought over from the Atlanta Falcons this past offseason. Robinson’s speed and familiarity with Shanahan’s system make him a lock.
- Trent Taylor – The team’s only draft choice spent on a wide receiver, rookie Trent Taylor has impressed at camp so far. Taylor’s sure hands are almost as sure as him making this team.
Those players are essentially locks to make the final 53-man roster. After them is where the decision-making gets challenging.
Who’s left: undrafted rookies Kendrick Bourne and Victor Bolden Jr., third-year man DeAndre Smelter, second-year man Aaron Burbridge and long-time veteran Louis Murphy Jr.
Out of that group, only two of them had made any kind of splash in training camp and preseason. Those two are the undrafted rookies, Bourne and Bolden Jr. Those two are the ones who will make the final 53-man team.
Throughout training camp, Bourne has showed that he has ability to be productive. Reports from writers on site had Bourne as one of the better performing wide receivers at 49ers camp.
That ability was flashed in the first preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs, where he hauled in a long pass from quarterback C.J. Beathard and finished off the play with a nice stutter step to evade the defender:
Bourne followed up that play with a two-point conversion, highlighting maybe his greatest asset — length. Standing a little over 6 feet tall, Bourne is one of the bigger 49ers wide receivers:
With Bolden Jr., the play from wide receiver has been less impressive than Bourne but it is speed that will earn Bolden Jr. the nod for the final wide receiver spot on the roster. Bolden Jr. is an electrifying player — in college he not only caught the ball, but also nearly had 100 rushing attempts last season and returned kickoffs as well.
The blazing pace Bolden Jr. possesses is what separates him from the rest of the fringe players. Even if he is struggling to make an impact in the passing game, his special teams capability will make him valuable.
This was put perfectly on display in the second preseason game against the Denver Broncos:
There isn’t many, if any at all, who can do that on this current 49ers roster. Right now is not a time the team can be sacrificing big-play ability, and Bolden Jr. represents that.
To sketch it out, this is what the projected wide receiver depth chart would look like at the beginning of the regular season:
- Bolden Jr.
By 1 p.m. P.S.T. on September 2nd, teams must cut down to the final 53-man roster. In the meantime, 49ers management has some serious tinkering to do.