49ers depth chart: 4 defensive veterans on the roster bubble

Ahkello Witherspoon #23 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
Ahkello Witherspoon #23 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images) /
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Marcell Harris, 49ers
Marcell Harris #36 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

The 49ers still boast an elite defense, yet there are some returning veterans who may not make the cut when the Week 1 roster for 2020 is announced.

The San Francisco 49ers don’t have too many holes on their roster, particularly on the defensive side where only Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner needed to be replaced after he was traded to the Indianapolis Colts earlier this offseason.

South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw was the hand-picked replacement, taken No. 14 overall by the Niners in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Kinlaw is poised to be a starter, and his 10 other starting-caliber defenders are all essentially shoo-ins for their respective roles this season. Only a handful of spots are truly up for grabs, as far as starters go.

But the depth situation gets a little trickier and a number of returning veterans could ultimately find themselves off the 53-man roster by the time Week 1 rolls around.

Here are four defenders who find themselves on the roster bubble entering training camp.

No. 4: 49ers Safety Marcell Harris

Late in 2018, it looked as if then-rookie Marcell Harris would be a candidate to potentially replace starting strong safety Jaquiski Tartt. Last year, however, Harris showed some serious liability in pass coverage, particularly in Week 14 when he was filling in for Tartt against the New Orleans Saints and gave up two early touchdowns.

Harris has been a good run defender, which worked better when the 49ers were playing more single-high Cover 3 defenses with the strong safety down close to the line of scrimmage. In 2019, though, San Francisco’s safeties were much more interchangeable.

As a result, Harris’ pass coverage took a hit, as his Pro Football Focus 59.3 pass-coverage grade suggested.

The Niners brought aboard an undrafted potential replacement, Alabama’s Jared Mayden, who could easily be viewed as the team’s best UDFA signing in 2020.

Mayden could easily challenge Harris for the No. 2 strong safety role behind Tartt, giving the 49ers an upgrade in pass defense while not losing too much against the run.