How 49ers’ ‘positionless’ offense will affect the 2019 roster?

San Francisco 49ers HC Kyle Shanahan (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
San Francisco 49ers HC Kyle Shanahan (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images) /
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WACO, TX – SEPTEMBER 01: Jalen Hurd #5 of the Baylor Bears makes a touchdown pass reception against Brandon Richmond #2 of the Abilene Christian Wildcats at McLane Stadium on September 1, 2018 in Waco, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

Roster implications

So now we understand exactly what a “positionless” offense is, and how the 49ers aim to use it. That leaves us to the most important part, who to keep on the roster.

Like I mentioned in the beginning, the 49ers have seventeen qualified players, per my estimation,  for around 13 spots. At running back, there’s Jerick McKinnon, Matt Breida, Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert. At wide receiver, Dante Pettis, Deebo Samuel, Jalen Hurd, Marquise Goodwin, Kendrick Bourne, Jordan Matthews, Richie James and Trent Taylor all have a shot to get a job. And at tight end, the Niners have George Kittle, Kaden Smith, Garrett Celek and Levine Toilolo. Finally, they have the irreplaceable Kyle Juszczyk.

The Locks

Obviously Kittle and Juszczyk will be locks, both of them reaching the Pro Bowl the last year. Pettis, Samuel and Hurd have to be considered locks, given the draft-capital investment in them. And for running backs, Breida’s inexpensive contract and age would make it completely idiotic to cut him, rendering him another lock.

That gives us six players out of a possible 13 spots. But this was the easy part. Now things get tricky.

The Others

Even though I didn’t list them as locks, both McKinnon and Coleman seem as safe bets to make the roster. McKinnon’s contract got partially guaranteed in April, and Coleman was signed this past offseason to a two-year deal, so I don’t see a reason they wouldn’t make the cut.

That’s about it when it comes to safe bets, which means the 49ers have five roster spots to fill out from the remaining players.

Mostert would seem to be an easy cut, but his special teams ability as well as the versatility of McKinnon and Coleman make it a tougher sell. At wide receiver, Goodwin may not have the same role he once had, but his top-end speed makes him a valuable part to the position group.

And from there, “positionless” offense makes its impact. Both Coleman and McKinnon have the receiving savvy to play in the slot, and Coleman actually mentioned how Shanahan will be using the running backs in different ways:

Coleman and McKinnon both fit the mold of slot receivers rather than the Z or X position, which has a large effect on the wide receiver group. Out of the four receivers left, two of them, Bourne and Matthews, have the ability to play on the outside, given their size. Both have also played exceptionally in OTAs, as Peter Panacy shows here.

That makes the roster construction a little different. You would typically assume one of Bourne and Matthews would make the roster, while either James or Taylor, a slot receiver, would be the other. Well, now Shanahan can keep the size because he has his slot receivers in the running back room.

You’ll also see we now only have one spot remaining, which would be the backup tight end. Who this player is isn’t as important, though my money is on Smith. Rather, the 49ers were able to keep an extra running back, and special teams ace, because of the versatility they have. Need a three-tight end set, Hurd or Juszczyk can fill in.

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Now, training camp will be the final indication for how the roster shakes out. But players aren’t just competing with guys in their position group. They’re competing with everyone on the roster. A tight end can’t just beat out a tight end; they have to beat out some wide receivers and a running back.