With training camp winding down for teams across the NFL, 53-man rosters are being finalized. For the San Francisco 49ers, UDFAs Matt Breida and Lorenzo Jerome not only seem like locks to make the roster, but may play significant roles for the team in 2017.
While all the glitz and glamour surrounds the high draft picks of each NFL team, the importance of the contributions of undrafted free agents that make rosters typically goes by the wayside.
In fact, per Elias Sports Bureau (h/t Adam Schefter of ESPN), there were more UDFAs in 2016 (481) on rosters last season than first- and second-round picks combined (480).
The San Francisco 49ers added 53 new players from last year’s team, including 17 UDFAs. Among those players were Georgia Southern running back Matt Breida and St. Francis (PA) safety Lorenzo Jerome.
San Francisco 49ers
Breida was impressive at his pro day, where he ran a blazing 4.39 40-yard dash. After being courted by numerous teams, he eventually signed with San Francisco.
Even with Carlos Hyde penciled in as the starter, and Tim Hightower and fourth-round pick Joe Williams vying for playing time, Breida has been the most productive back along with Raheem Mostert, who may also make the roster as a special-teams player.
Against Minnesota, Breida gained 29 yards on seven carries and looked the part of a No. 1 running back. It appeared head coach Kyle Shanahan set him up with designed plays on offense, and Breida looked sharp executing them. He could very well outduel Hightower, Bibbs, Williams and Mostert as the first back off the bench.
And with Hyde’s injury history, that could mean even more significant carries as the season wears on.
Lorenzo Jerome Starting?
On the defensive side of the ball, Lorenzo Jerome continues to do what he always has done: make plays.
The undersized safety has seen his playing time increase over the course of the preseason, and he keeps getting better. He has a nose for the football, racking up 18 interceptions in college, and now has continued that throughout training camp.
His ability to adapt to the speed and athleticism of NFL players has also caught the attention of teammate Eric Reid, who told 49ers.com:
"To be running with the ones as a rookie is tough. I remember my rookie year and the pressure that comes with that. You want to live up to the expectations that you set for yourself. I think he’s been doing well."
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With presumptive starter Jimmie Ward nursing a hamstring injury, and his history of injury since joining the team as a first round pick in 2014, Jerome has an opportunity to get reps and step in should Ward continue being injury-prone.
If you ask Jerome about his game and his ability, there is no lack of confidence evident in him.
Jerome stated as much, telling 49ers.com, “I feel like the game slowed down a lot for me. The guys helped me all week. You’ve just got to be patient and be a ball hawk. That’s what I do best.”
The 5-foot-10, 204-pound safety continues to prove that no game is too big for him, and has shown an innate ability to make plays.
And with a young, hungry defense looking for playmakers, Jerome just may have found himself the perfect landing spot.
It will be a season of growth and growing pains as the Niners build the roster, “brick by brick.”
But with Breida and Jerome on board, the 49ers just may have found themselves a few building blocks for the future.